Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Facebook and Connection

Posted Facebook and Connection over at the Social Lens blog.

All the world is Facebooked, Twittered, MySpaced, Googled….connected.

I have been particularly interested in themes related to connection in my physical community since around the year 2000. One of my areas of focus as a Sociologist is the Sociology of Community. Among German Sociologist Georg Simmel’s many contributions is his work examining group size and relationships. What is integral to the study of community are relationships and connection.

In the year 2000 a major work in the social sciences was published by Robert Putnam, a book entitled “Bowling Alone“. This book was a national bestseller and spent time on the New York Times bestseller list. Putnam’s work spoke to the loss of attachment and connection that people had with one another and how the sense of community had declined over the period of the 1970s-1990s.

A basic level research question that I have examined over the past several years is how does the role of internet technology, particularly social networking sites and services, impact relationships and connections? On a practical level, have Facebook and other social networking services played an important role in meeting the needs of connection and interaction of people not only in the United States, but the world? Is the void that Putnam highlighted now being filled through the internet?

Let’s examine Facebook a little more closely. Literally. Let’s look at my “connections”.

Below is a Facebook application I used back in February of 2008 to map my connections.

I decided to take another snapshot of my friends one year later in February of 2009. That’s it below.

Notice in the friend wheel above that you can now barely see my name. I’m literally “covered up with friends”. This makes me feel loved, connected, friended when I look at this.

Then this month, I took another snapshot of my friends list. Check this out.

When I first looked at this, it reminded of the sun, or the Earth. Have my friends and me transcended something extraordinary?

I absolutely love the Friend Wheel application. It’s striking to see my visual connections. My “connections” have grown to nearly 300 “friends” over the past three years. Sure, I have a large quantity of friends, but do I have quality relationships too? If you are on Facebook, look at your friends list. How would you characterize your friends? Are they from high school, former boyfriends/girlfriends? Family? Neighbors?

After characterizing your friends, now think about those you maintain contact with, whether physically or visually, on a regular basis. Some of these may also be Facebook friends. What is the difference between “real life friends” and “Facebook friends”? Do you consider the Facebook friends real? What is the purpose of Facebook?

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