Sunday, October 14, 2007

On Facebook

Ah my poor blog, languishing neglected out there in the ether. Finally, as you can tell, here are some of the recent things I've been thinking about. One of these is the fast growing phenomenon of Facebook. Now, I have to confess that I approached Facebook with a degree of sceptism, but have found myself increasingly seduced by its lure (although I am only 14% addicted according to its statistics, unlike my better half who is 29% addicted). So why do I like facebook and what kinds of questions does it make me ask?

Well, I like facebook because I am, essentially, quite a friendly / nosey person, and I like seeing what is going on with friends (be they close or not so close) but don't have time to keep up with them all face-to-face. So I really enjoy the fact that I can flick on and see snippets of what is happening with my friends as far flung as oz, across the UK, the US. Nothing beats the face-to-face, of course. Facebook will never replace actually hanging out with these guys, but when they are far, far away (to quote Shrek) that is not likely to happen, and this is a convenient, asynchronous substitute. So, for me personally, facebook is a social thing.

What kinds of questions does it make me ask? Well, first of all, it makes me ask whether facebook is a transliterate way of doing relationships. If transliteracy involves moving across different platforms, invoking multimodality, being aware of context and so on, then is my online version of 'catching up' a form of transliteracy? And what does this do to how we manage relationships? One thing that facebook does is to bring all your friends together into your profile without subcategorising them into the real world communities into which they belong. And so what you disclose gets seen by them all, whether they are contacts through work, or family friends, or students (past and present). And that, for sure, is slightly wierd, at least when you start using facebook. The collapsing of distinct social networks means that I seem to work to the 'lowest common denominator'. That is, I try and disclose only that which I am prepared to let all of them see. For some people, that means they say and do nothing. I tend to be pretty open about my personal life (my Facebook profile says I have a ridiculously high degree of extraversion), so slightly more than nothing gets into my status updates. But I have got more bland and non-descript, conscious of who sees what.

I also wonder what kind of linguistic resource Facebook might be. Is it something we might use to trace how internet language is evolving within certain social networks. For the 30 million users of facebook (did I get that right?) Facebook categories them by age, gender and so on. So a sociolinguist or anthropologist might go and look at usage patterns, profile construction as a means of doing identity, the language that gets used on people's walls. I'm sure there is a PhD in there somewhere. I haven't figured out yet where or how Facebook archives the updates, or if they are publically accessible. But I wonder if this might build some kind of multifaceted narrative in itself, where the chronological updates are micro-entries in an ongoing life story. And would women and men write different kinds of updates? What kinds of things do they say?

Food for thought. But the offline mode of doing life with people is calling. Let's hope I make it back to the blog sooner than the last time!

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3 Comments:

Blogger Jess said...

Of course you'd write a post with a myriad more questions (I'd like answers though!). ;)

I'm wondering about your question of the transliteracy-ness of Facebook...an example of how it might be used in a transliterate sense (and also responding to your question of status updates): a couple of days ago Sue and I had a conversation on Facebook solely through our status updates. I noticed Sue's status complained of shopping, I responded in my status wondering why she was complaining, it had to do with shoes...and on it went culminating in a gift of a lovely red stilleto (perfect for tramping around campus). In this example our communication took a usually asynchronous mode and made it synchronous. I wonder if others are doing this too?



PS I wonder if there is a gender correlation between the number of applications added to Facebook profiles...

7:09 AM  
Blogger Ruth Page said...

Hi Jess, I find it interesting (amazing actually) that you and Sue managed to have a conversation through the status updates! If you were both online at the same time, I guess that would make the exchange synchronous, but if it was separate, it would still remain asynchronous (I think). Facebook does enable you to see who is online at the same time as you, and I guess the walls enable the kind of discussion you and Sue had to retain a kind of permanence also. But for me, the main element that would make facebook transliterate is that you are talking online (as a way of 'doing friendship?) which you then cross over from into offline, face-to-face communication. I suggose what I'm getting at is that the relational connection in facebook can require both an element of offline social connection and online interaction (graphically represented in the wheel etc), which in turn can influence offline communication. And that's what might cause relational management to evolve (the 'trans' of 'transliterate'). Maybe we will have to get very cued up as to how to read status updates!

8:34 AM  
Blogger Jess said...

yup - our status update conversation did evolve in real-time.

So transliteracy is about the crossing of media rather than just of modes? In terms of the web I wonder if that crossing over occurs more subtly and perhaps even unconsciously. We know how to *read* images and text and sound and even relationship cues and that knowledge is what crosses over to allow it to all happen online. Without the RL literacy how would the online literacy function? I think you're right in highlighting the relational aspect of translit. Perhaps if one doesn't have that knowledge to hand reading status updates as an unfolding story might be trickier?

Then it's not, as Andrew Keen would have it, "everything is miscellaneous" but
~~~everything is relational~~~

1:45 AM  

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