Tuesday, November 29, 2011

My Like/Hate Relationship With Facebook

By Mary Chayko, Professor of Sociology, The College of Saint Elizabeth, and author of Portable Communities: The Social Dynamics of Online and Mobile Connectedness and Connecting: How We Form Social Bonds and Communities in the Internet Age, both with SUNY Press. She can be found online at MaryChayko.com and on Twitter @MaryChayko
I came late to the social media party.  My colleagues, students, friends and family were perplexed that I, an internet researcher, wasn’t on Facebook, Twitter, or any of the other social media sites. I admit that there was an irony to my studying and writing about the impact of technology on society but not using social media myself.  But what few understood was that my decision not to join Facebook was very much a political act – until it became one I couldn’t make anymore.
As a sociologist, I recognize that as individuals we are required to contribute to the social institutions of which we are a part. We give time, energy and expertise to our workplaces, schools, churches, families. We turn over large portions of our paychecks to our governments. Some give their lives in military service, or suffer valiantly when their loved ones do so. In turn, we trust and hope that these institutions will be there for us, even protect us, when we need them. It’s a social contract.
Though we tend not to think about it very often, we also give these social institutions large amounts of data about our habits and our selves. Whenever we make a purchase, do our banking, fill out a form, pay our taxes, or surf the Net, we are submitting information about ourselves that we then lose control over.  Computerized technology has permitted this to become a widespread, almost continuous practice.
I understand, though I don’t enjoy, the need for certain institutions to gather some of this data. But I usually have no idea what is being done with it or with whom it can be shared, or when, or under what circumstances. I recognize (although my research indicates that many people don’t) that the electronic mining for and tracking of my data results in my being profiled as a certain kind of citizen, consumer, worker, person. Essentially, I have been easily and electronically turned into a commodity to be sold to just the right advertiser or targeted for someone’s criminal eye or political tyranny.
I avoided Facebook for years in order to avoid submitting any more data, let alone my most personal information, to any more social institutions, let alone huge, commercial, faceless ones (though I guess I’m well acquainted with Mark Zuckerberg’s face by now).  I was making a deliberate statement -- one that’s still being made, incidentally, by many non-Facebookers whom I respect -- that no entity should have that kind of comprehensive access to my personal, social, and political identity. I was determined to resist this kind of commodification wherever possible. But in the end, Facebook won.  I could no more avoid it and remain socially connected in my field (and to my gaggle of relentlessly Facebooking cousins)  than I could avoid my face-to-face connections at work or at home. Or, I suppose, I didn’t want to anymore.
Anyway, as it turns out, I was already all over Facebook (and Twitter). I was tagged in family photos, listed in groups, mentioned in posts and tweets, referenced regarding my work.  Google was already documenting much of what I did (and I wouldn’t be very searchable, or have much of a career, if it didn’t). So I joined Facebook, then Twitter, and then developed a professional website, to gain more control over how I am portrayed online – to do my own “impression management,” for you students of Erving Goffman. I had originally hoped to control my data profile by limiting my exposure on social media, but its ubiquity simply wore that idea down. In its place grew the realization that I needed to do more to shape that profile myself.
My cousins wore me down, too. I have dozens of extended family members across the country, and I knew that I had been foregoing opportunities for social interaction with them by not being on Facebook, but I didn’t understand how important those interactions would be to them (and, eventually, to me). I had gotten used to being out of contact with them. At last year’s (in-person) family reunion, though, I was sent the message loud and clear: they were hanging out together online, and they wanted me there, and I was even being kind of rude by refusing to do so. I got it. So I joined Facebook to better connect with them as well. Yes, I compromised my privacy and politics in doing so, but those are probably not the stupidest things I’ve ever done or will do for love.
I’m paying a price, though, make no mistake about it, and you are too. It’s easy to spend too many precious hours online and deter energy from more productive activities. (Of course, time spent online counts as research for me, so I’m okay there.) It’s tempting to over-share – they’ve set it up that way – and it’s important to remember that anything you put online can be tracked and reproduced anywhere, at any time in the future, so it’s not the place for secrets or intimacies. We’re documenting so much about our lives that we’re changing the way we live in response. And it can feel overwhelming to keep up with the massive amounts of information that Facebook and Twitter feed us. This can result in anxiety, a sense of constant clutter in our lives (and brains), and even despair. (Research suggests that if you are interested in meaningful interaction with each friend or follower, keep your lists to about 150 or fewer, as the level and quality of interaction tends  to degrade at about that point.)
There are more dangers and risks in online and social media participation than this article can convey (they’re detailed in my books, however -- available at most traditional and online booksellers!). Still, I’m glad I joined the “party.” The allure and charm and significance of online social interaction and sharing are undeniable, which is the biggest theme in my work.  We may need to make difficult compromises along the way, and cede more control of personal data than makes us comfortable.  But we may be better able to understand one another, guide our careers, and shape our online identities. And we can get closer to our cousins.

15 comments:

  1. This is funny, that in spite of Mary's reservations, at the foot of her post, there are icons to recommend via twitter, facebook, and Google! hm... I avoid apps on fb. I wonder if that reduces my compromise with the social networking devil?

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  2. As Mary Chayko encompassed throughout her writing, social networking can be a useful yet extremely dangerous tool. What many children using social networking sites, such as facebook and twitter, do not understand is that once on the internet, information, pictures and personal knowledge can then never be erased. Further, the information does not simply stay on that one site in which it was intended; once put on the internet, any site, such information is then free to be used or taken by any person and generally ends up somewhere else thus increasing the probability of an immensely dangerous situation occurring. Although yes, Chayko is correct in stating that social networking is a key way in keeping in touch with loved ones, distance friends or relatives, or connecting with someone new online, at what price is such paid? Especially to those who do not understand that “privacy” or “blocked” does not mean no one can see, social networking is too dangerous unless used intelligently. If one finds the internet the best way to stay connected, one must never put any information on that he or she did not want a complete, potentially dangerous, stranger to see. If one can not do so, it is in one’s best interest to use what would be social networking time to pick up a phone and call the people he or she wishes to keep in touch with.

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  3. After reading this article, I found many similarities in Mary Chayko's view on Facebook with my own. Like most of my generation, I am addicted to technology. It's not that I need it in my everyday life, but I find that I feel left out if I am not up-to-date on the new technological advances in our society. Last year for lent, I gave up Facebook. I felt so free and had so much more time on my hands by not going on Facebook for a whole fourty days. However, in my everyday interactions with my friends I found that more often than not they managed to mention something pertaining to Facebook. I find it so interesting that even our relationships with friends and family are somehow altered by our dependence on technology.

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  4. With constant technological advances in our lives, it is hard to avoid being involved. With advertisement of new products, it's hard not to want the newest item, or join the newest social network. However, a lot of people don't realize what they're DOING on those networks, and in most cases, they are negatively adding to their identities. There is not a weekend that passes that pictures of Friday and Saturday night go up in which could get people in a ton of trouble. It's ok to have these networks and use them, however people need to censor the stuff they put up; some things should just not be said or posted on Facebook and Twitter. You're not a victim of social networking by joining, but you are a victim by misusing it and posting provocative things.

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  5. Mary Chayko makes a good point about social networking, it is a very good way to stay connected with people, but on the other hand social networking can be very dnagerous as well. I know that I myself are some what addicted to my facebook but I make sure that no one can access my information without my approval. Now a days people do not call each other, they either text or communicate with each other on some sort of social network. This is an interesting article because I am not sure how many people these days could go long without facebook or twitter. It would be interesting to see how long people could disconnect from their computer lives and live in the human world.

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  6. After reading this article, I completely agree with Mary Chayko. She makes a great point about social networking sites. As they might be a way to connect with people you have lost contact with, they can also be dangerous. Anything you post on the internet is there forever, and many people don't understand that. Because the settings on facebook are the way they are people can just google you, and your facebook comes up on the search. This is scary because even if you have your profile set to private, people can still see your information. I agree with Mary when she says that it is a good way to connect with people, but at what price? That's originally why I joined Facebook, but now I see myself wasting hours upon hours on Facebook, and as well as a distraction, people can see things that I don't want them to see. I think we need to take a step back from social networking and focus on more important things, like actually talking to people in person and maintaining social interactions with people.

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  7. I think Mary Chayko effectively summarizes the aspects of online social networking that are most widely recognized today as reasons to be hesitant to participate in it. Her story about eventually surrendering to Facebook after boycotting it because she had believed it required an unnecessary sharing of personal information, is evidence that the existence of new technology has altered the way people live and interact so that non-participation in sites like Facebook actually results in a decreased ability to be socially included and aware. So while a person without a Facebook will not be aware of what information they are missing by not being online, they are missing it nevertheless. Maybe that prospect doesn't bother some people at all and they are happy to live their lives without being made constantly aware of the affairs of others whom they do not personally interact with. However, the point is that as a form of recent technology online social networking cannot be viewed simply as an additional way to communicate. It has become a primary means of social interaction, and in becoming such, it has fundamentally changed popular culture. Now with whatever they do people think about how it might be shared on Facebook, whether it be through pictures, statuses, etc. Facebook creates an atmosphere that shows people how their lives compare to the lives of others. Inevitably then, individuals develop a greater interest in the lives of people they are not personally close to because the nature of the site lets them 'get to know' people without having to personally know them. The resulting culture is one where a person's online image significantly influences the way they are perceived and judged by others. Having temporarily deactivated my Facebook in the past I definitely agree that although time away from it isn't too difficult, coming back to it reminds you that your social life is not the same without it. This considered, Mary Chayko's initial reservations about joining Facebook, though valid, do not pose a danger serious enough to be the reason that a person stays away from social networking sites; especially because these sites allow users to limit the extent of what they share.

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  8. Molly Ragucci - Intro to SociologyDecember 1, 2011 at 10:56 PM

    Since the rise of many social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, America has become desensitized when it comes to actual social interaction. It is frightening when Facebook gets to the point that you have friends who you've never met in person. If we as a nation continue to utilize these websites in order to communicate, we will soon find ourselves isolated in our homes attached to the computer rather than having face to face contact. Although Facebook and social websites are addicting, they serve a practical purpose as well. It is just up to people to use it properly (and safely) in order to avoid desensitizing ourselves toward our fellow man.

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  9. I agree with Mary Chayko completely. It is interesting that no matter how much you try to boycott this new technology it seems that at some point you must give in because it becomes ingrained in our society. For example, my parents thought the idea of dvds when they first came out were pointless when they have video tapes. The never got the dvds when they went to blockbusters for a movie but soon blockbuster only sold dvds and they were forced by our society to get a dvd player if they ever wanted to watch their movies. And now they don't even use a dvd player, they use netflix and video on demand!
    I have had many friends actually try to stop using their facebook and remove it. However, they soon realized they were missing out on a whole facet of their social world and after a month or two always felt they had to go back.
    This just shows how much technology is a part of our society and even if you wanted to boycott it, you will eventually give in. Right now I do not want to even use a kindle because I personally love having books, but if bookstores keep going out of business in the near future I may not have any other choice.

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  10. Like many others have said, Mary Chayko is right. Social networking can aid in certain social departments but also be a very complicated and dangerous technological instrument. The internet is not something to mess with, it downloads, records, and saves every bit of information to put out there for the world to see. However, I have to admit, I do have a facebook and I enjoy being connected to my friends and family, but there are times where I feel that facebook exposes too much information. Nevertheless, I do not plan on deleting my facebook nor do I feel that the internet can change. I just believe that if you want to really stay connected with someone do not hide yourself behind a computer. Pick up the phone, write a letter, or plan a get together instead.

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  11. After reading Professor Mary Chayko’s statement relating to the massive amount of information that Facebook shares with its users, “This can result in anxiety, a sense of constant clutter in our lives (and brains), and even despair,” I immediately took my eyes off the page. I began to make direct connections to my own experience. Unfortunately, I have felt anxious as a result to Facebook on numerous accounts. It is obviously not something I wish to feel, but subconsciously my interest in logging on and updating myself with the rest of the social world outweighs my anxiety and my overwhelmed being. I am very similar to Professor Chayko in that I believe Facebook is not entirely good for you, but it is unavoidable and in some ways rude to not be a part of. Today, we are part of a myriad of institutions such as families, schools, churches, teams, and many more that wish to stay close and connected as time passes. Facebook is THE technological route to staying in touch with those who we are close to and those with whom we want to remain close.

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  12. Social Networking has exploded in the past couple of years, and has impacted everyone’s social lives. I find that many people have a similar story to Mary Chayko. I feel that people may even want to be without social media because it inter connects us too much. People do far less face-to-face talking than before because they rely too heavily on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. People rarely call each other on the phone anymore and use texting and social media cites as their primary source of communication. I do think it’s good to be connected, and I do use Facebook and twitter all the time, however I don’t believe that it should replace face-to-face communication. We should not be disconnected from these face to face interactions because of societies addiction to the world of social media.

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  13. Professor Mary Chayko makes a lot of good points throughout this article about social media and its affect on a person’s social life. I like most in this country have a social media addiction; I have both the facebook and twitter applications on my cell phone. I have found sometimes when I am just sick of facebook though and I realize how it can after my future life with the pictures I post. Also with twitter, all of the tweets I have sent out that might have a bad impact on my personal life later on. One thing that I find kind of disturbing is when you are about to deactivate your account on facebook, there is a message that states “Your friends are going to miss you if you leave” or something along those lines. So I usually end up caving and staying on facebook because it is so easy to communicate with friends and family.

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  14. I do not believe that social networking is as dangerous at Professor Chayko thinks it is. Social Networking websites are only as dangerous as people make them. By this I mean that stupidity is the only way for these sites to be dangerous. For instance, Facebook only requires a name, email address, and age in order to sign up...that's it. None of this information is dangerous to give out either, except maybe the email address, but you can even make an alternate email address specifically for social networking. Any other information that is put out is solely at the discretion of the user.

    In regards to what others have commented about social networking, I am extremely disappointed in people and the level at which they allow a simple website to dictate their actions. It's just a computer screen! If you are not disciplined enough to able to set it aside at will then I sincerely feel bad for you. Or saying that a pop up message makes you feel bad about yourself is just saddening.

    Get some mental toughness and be smart when you use these websites and they won't be as "dangerous" as you all make them out to be!

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