Facebook and Travel Mobility
The Interrelation between Social Network Services and Physical Travel and Its Possible Implications for the Future
Term Paper 2012 18 Pages
Table of Content
1. Introductory Remarks
2. Mobility and Social Network Services in Research
3. Facebook and Place
3.1. Facebook as a Research Objec
3.2. The Role of Place on Facebook
4. Synthesis of Travel Mobility and Facebook
4.1. Traveling in the 21stCentury
4.2. Explanations for Traveling
4.3. How Facebook Makes a Difference
4.4. For Whom Facebook Makes a Difference
5. Implications for Research and Practice
6. Concluding Remark
In an era of information and communication technologies, imaginative and virtual travel have not substituted physical travel but resulted in a network society of multiple mobilities. People are increasingly mobile for maintaining their professional and private social relationships in intermittent face-to-face meetings. So far, we do not know much about the interrelation between travel mobility and social network services (SNSs). With the example of Facebook as the dominating, undisputed SNS of 845 million monthly active users, I will argue how ‘place’-focused features are put under the spotlight of Facebook users’ activities and perceived character. As a platform combining various services, tools, and applications also of third parties, Facebook can influence its users’ mobility habits and expectations of physical traveling. This brings with it important implications for research and practice, since foremostly young generations are concerned and will thus influence future developments.
1. Introductory Remarks
A friend of mine has just updated her status on Facebook, posting that she arrived in Kuala Lumpur for her spring holidays. My colleague changed his Facebook profile, posting that he is going to work with a micro finance bank in Nairobi next month. And then, I am stumbling across my cousin’s photo album of his last family reunion somewhere near Lake Tahoe.
With its 845 million monthly active users at the end of 2011 (Facebook 2012: 1), Facebook (www.facebook.com) is now the dominating, undisputed social networking website in the world. And from typical comments such as the ones above, it seems obvious that place or location plays a highly relevant role on Facebook. Where you come from, where you currently are, and where you will be is a major feature of characterizing a Facebook user.
This is related to mobility, because being in a place often implies going there first. Thus, people are traveling. And they are traveling at a constantly increasing rate. Szerszynski and Urry (2006: 116) usually compare the 25 million legal international tourist arrivals in 1950 with the 760 million of 2004 and the expected 1.6 billion in 2020. It goes without saying that the travel and tourist industry, therefore, has a fundamental stake in the world’s gross domestic product, exports, and employment (ibid: 116). The reasons for this increased travel mobility are manifold – covering areas of leisure and business traveling to formal migration and illegal trafficking. At this juncture, we have to differentiate travel mobility from other forms of mobility – a widely used term describing various aspects. For this paper, the focus lies on personal travel mobility as the physical ‘movement’ of people from one place to another of a particular distance and for reasons beyond simple daily practices such as going to work, the supermarket, or the cinema in one’s hometown. Thus, this mobility always includes a specific social element in its intention to travel to a certain place at a certain time to maintain social relationships or to experience this place on one’s own (cf. Sheller and Urry 2006: 217).
It might seem obvious that the interrelation of increased travel mobility and social network services (SNSs) should have been a focus in previous research. But quite the contrary, the current state of the art has neither looked closer into the effects of SNSs on travel mobility, nor the effects of travel mobility on these SNSs (cf. Ohnmacht 2009: 120-121). We have a good understanding of what online activities SNSs are triggering, but we have hardly studied the influence of SNSs’ uses on offline activities, travel mobility in particular (cf. Barkhuus and Tashiro 2010: 133).
Therefore, I will take up this promising research perspective by introducing Facebook’s ‘place’-focus and discuss the interrelation of travel mobility and this SNS, particularly its young user base and possible implications for the future. My main argument is that Facebook offers features (services, tools, applications etc.) that are putting ‘place’ under the spotlight of a user’s activities, thus constituting at least indirectly the perceived character of a user. So to say, Facebook is much about where you have been/are/will be. With the constant communication of various places on a user’s Facebook page, virtual and imaginative travel are not any longer satisfying to his/her friends, but are forming an understanding of, piquing a curiosity for, and triggering physical travel beyond previous ideas – places that have been (too) far away in the past are now increasingly becoming travel destinations one has to visit sometime in the (near) future. As a platform combining various other services and applications in the field of travel mobility, Facebook will influence its users’ mobility habits. This development, especially since it concerns foremostly younger generations, can have tremendous impacts on transportation infrastructure systems. This calls for an approach in research and practice that eventually realizes the “mobility turn” (Sheller and Urry 2006: 208), which will be further explained in the paper.
Since Facebook is the combined result of what its producers are programming and what its users are making out of these services, tools, and integrated applications of third parties, it is particularly challenging to describe a current development which outcomes are hard to predict in this fluid setting. Therefore, we can only look at relevant aspects of Facebook and try to understand possible interrelations step by step. In order to grasp the topic logically, I will briefly cover previous research on mobility and SNSs ( chapter 2). Then, I will explain why I chose Facebook as a research object (chapter 3.1.) and introduce its relevant (‘place’) features (chapter 3.2.). These chapters will function as the foundation for discussing the interrelation between Facebook and mobility with regard to modern-day traveling (chapter 4.1.), explanations for traveling (chapter 4.2.), Facebook’s role in travel mobility (chapter 4.3.), and the related impact on various users/people ( chapter 4.4.). Afterwards, I will indicate important implications for research and practice (chapter 5), before bringing the main findings together in a brief summary (chapter 6).
2. Mobility and Social Network Services in Research
Relevant contribution of research on the interrelation between mobility and SNSs will be taken on later in this paper. For the moment now, it shall be sufficient to briefly frame the topic with regard to the most important findings in previous studies. An important basis for comprehending the interrelation between SNSs and mobility is the differentiation into physical, imaginative, and virtual travel – referring to traveling with the body (such as an actual holiday trip), through images/media (such as a TV documentation), or via communication technologies and corresponding information (such as Google Earth), respectively (Szerszynski and Urry 2006: 115-116). While previous studies thought of non-physical traveling as a form that would increasingly substitute physical traveling, more and more researchers could show that we are actually dealing with multiple mobilities, which are interdependent and accelerate people’s mobility (Larsen, Urry, and Axhausen 2006: 54-55; Urry 2003: 117; Sheller and Urry 2006: 212).
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- University of Frankfurt (Main) – Institut für Humangeographie
- facebook travel mobility interrelation social network services physical possible implications future