The purpose of this paper is to introduce, discuss, and analyze the topic of social networking. Specifically it will discuss the impact of the social networking site Facebook on today’s society. Facebook has become a phenomenon for the social networking set, and what makes that so amazing is that Facebook did not even exist until 2004. Three college students created it to allow other students to network and meet each other, and it has caught on with young people around the globe. What impact does Facebook have on today’s technologically advanced society? It allows people who probably never would have met each other in person to communicate, it creates new relationships and friendships, and it places distance between people who could communicate in person but instead choose to communicate online, instead. It is just another element of society that is interested in sharing information with the intimacy of a close, personal relationship.
Facebook is nothing more than a medium for communication, and yet, it is so much more than that. At a glance, a user can learn everything from what gender a Facebook member is, to what religion they believe in, what school they attend, and their likes and dislikes, all with the click of a mouse. One writer notes how popular the site has become in a short time. She writes, “When Facebook launched in February 2004, American college students seized the opportunity to have a new social medium” (Lingg, 2008). Today, millions of new visitors join the site every year, and people find relatives, old friends, new friends, and much more as they surf the entries of neighbors, acquaintances, and classmates. While many believe Facebook is a new, trendy idea, it is actually based on a Victorian university tradition, the “Freshman Facebook,” that introduced the incoming class to students through their photographs. A researcher notes, “Like its relative the yearbook, the Facebook is a photographic document created by a community for the purpose of visually defining community life” (Miller, 2007). Many colleges and universities still utilize the Facebook, and the web site’s creators based their name and idea on that old college tradition, they just updated it for a younger, hipper, techie audience.
However, compared to other social networking sites, like My Space, Facebook is far less chaotic, busy, and difficult to understand. The pages are neat, easy to navigate, and offer the information in an uncluttered, neat site that is pleasant to look at. Facebook’s effect on today’s society is not difficult to distinguish. Of course, Facebook’s success has spawned numerous other sites geared to specific age groups and demographics. Another writer notes, “There are social networking sites for musicians, for mountain climbers, and for particular political persuasions. And with each site, a new community emerges that presumably satisfies the community needs that the members of such a site are looking for” (Fabian, 2008). Facebook has changed the way people communicate, connect with each other, and meet, and all of that is done virtually now, instead of in person.
Users can share photos, buy and sell items, and spend hours online communicating with friends and acquaintances. It has changed the way people connect and communicate, but its affect on society goes far deeper than that, and it says something about our virtual society. Experts estimate that many people now spend at least 50 percent of their waking time online (Fabian, 2008). For many, a large part of this time is spent in social networking sites like Facebook. People give up huge parts of their privacy when they post their feelings, interests, and ideas online, and society seems to be becoming much more open to this lack of privacy, in fact, the users of Facebook seem to relish it, adding very personal items to their profiles that anyone who becomes their friend can view. This seems to say that our society is much more open now, and much more open to posting intimate information online, but it also is rather anonymous in a way, because users never see, meet, or touch the person they communicate with, and so, even though they know intimate details, they do not really know the person at all. Writer Fabian continues, “Facebook and My Space are virtual experiences.
People are free to be someone they aren’t. Peer review doesn’t exist. You don’t literally touch anyone–not even by a smile, to say nothing of a handshake. No one is accountable to anyone else. And so forth” (Fabian, 2008). Thus, Facebook is kind of a “fantasy land” where people can make up anything they want to command attention, they can live an alternative life if they choose, and no one is the wiser. The fact that people accept these profiles at face value, and choose people as friends based on these profiles says a lot about our society. For all our worries about information and identity theft, people are still seemingly naive when it comes to sites like Facebook, where they post intimate details with no thoughts to the consequences. Facebook opens up other questions about today’s society, too. These young people who spend so much time online networking are not networking in person. Will they develop the social and interpersonal skills necessary to compete in their chosen careers when they spend so much time alone, networking? Do they understand the realities of everyday life, and how the “real” world works, so they can function and be a part of it? Many experts believe not so much.
Another writer states, “And yet, as a generation, Rose notes, many may not have much historical perspective, or understand how say, government or economic systems work (outside of those who learn details as part of a specific academic path), or get the fact that success for most people isn’t instant” (Bielski, 2007). Society is becoming increasingly fast paced, today’s young people expect everything to be delivered at the speed of the Internet, and sites like Facebook only enhance that feeling of instant gratification and success. In addition, Facebook poses another interesting aspect of today’s society – marketing. Many companies are realizing they have a captive audience on Facebook that spends a great amount of time there, and so, they market their businesses on Facebook. The Canadian Royal Bank is just one business cultivating college students on the site, so it is changing the way advertisers market their products online, and even changing the age range of ads online, as well. As more companies reach out to college students and others on social networking sites, advertising in print and television media may reduce or disappear, because advertisers want the most bang for their buck, and much of that audience is now spending increasing amounts of time online.
There is also another great implication to today’s society when the membership of My Space and Facebook are compared. A Blogger discusses a white paper a friend of his has written regarding how social status is quite segmented between the two sites. He writes, “Which posits that well-to-do, stable American teens with ‘good prospects’ end up on Facebook, while poor, queer, marginal and non-white teens end up on My Space (even in the military, grunts are on My Space and officers are on Facebook)” (Doctorow, 2009). The implications for this separation in today’s society is staggering. In a time when it seems that the anonymity of the Internet would foster more coming together and breaking down cultural barriers, it seems that is not the case and the implications for society are clear – Facebook is not fostering change and acceptance, it is still fostering class and societal barriers that keep people apart instead of bringing them together.
In conclusion, Facebook on the surface is a socially acceptable networking site for college students and others to connect, share experiences, and meet old friends. It does say some disturbing things about how our society views privacy, personal information, and how our society is adjusting to the age of technology, and it brings into question what a generation of Facebookers will deal with the challenges of the real world in person, like career, family, and success. Facebook is a popular phenomenon that attracts millions of users each year, and allows people to post profiles, communicate with others, and even locate old friends. It is extremely popular with college students, but it is used my any number of people for a variety of reasons. It has some serious implications for our society.
People on Facebook rarely meet or interact in person, so they do not develop good interpersonal skills. They spend so much time online, giving out extremely personal and sensitive information, they may not be aware of some of the important aspects of society, such as the government and economics that they will need to understand to become successful in their careers. We use the Internet so much now that some users may expect all of life to respond as quickly as online sites like Facebook, and they may have trouble dealing with the realities of a career that takes time to establish and gain success. In addition, Facebook and other networking sites are helping to build barriers to commonality in society, something extremely disturbing and with long-term effects.