The Impact of Social Networks on Everday Life from a Psychological and a Sociological Approach
Pre-University Paper 2011 29 Pages
Table of contents
What is a 'social network'? - A short overview.
Who are we? - Social networks and the individual.
Who are our friends? - Social networks and friendship.
How do we behave? - Social networks and interaction.
To what extent does the digital revolution affect everyday life? Social networks and prospects.
What is a 'social network'? - A short overview.
In fact, 'social networking' is not a modern 'phenomenon'. To reduce it to simpler terms, 'social networking' means forming a society out of individuals. In principle, even a savage meeting of Neanderthals could be considered as 'social networking', too: Humans creating a space to communicate and interact. Consequently 'social networking' lies within human nature and evolved over centuries – at all times synchronously to recent innovation. It is well-known that the invention of telephone redefined possibilities of communication. Moreover, the advent of the Internet implied new experiences of human interaction.
Subsequently, this 'space for interaction' was also transferred to the world wide web. Inevitably, we live in a digital era. Mobile Internet access and modern cellphones amplified our connectivity to an unprecedented, greater degree. An instantaneous paradigm shift – regarding our ways of communication – has already occurred. Checking new e-mails or social network updates developed into a casual, daily action, just like taking a short look at one's watch in former times. Admittedly, it is not that mankind does not pay attention to watches anymore, but to a certain extent, the spectrum of daily routines has been widened. Social networks epitomise modern society evolution by mirroring a fast paced lifestyle and constantly accelerating sharing of information. Furthermore mankind is now accustomed to the ubiquity of information. Thoughts and message could be virtually sent to any person at any place in the world within seconds.
'Facebook' and it's social media equivalents have had a massive impact on social life structures yet, especially within the examined age class of the under 18 year-old minors.
Time after time new fears are revealed regarding privacy or even a hegemonic character of several platforms (by comprising a main role in everyday life). The issue of modern social networks is as problematical as topical.
Facebook for example, considered as the flagship of social networks, was founded in the beginning of 2004 by Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg. His vision was as simple as forward-looking: „I'm trying to make the world a more open place by helping people connect and share.“ (Mark Zuckerberg on his Facebook profile about himself)1. Firstly, his opus was singly conceived to help Harvard students to stay in touch, but over weeks, the work evolved significantly. Initially, the network spread over numerous US colleges. Later, Mark Zuckerberg and his companions expanded their network to foreign countries in any continent.
Nowadays, Facebook has about 625,000,000 (February 2011) registered users2, about 15,100,200 of them are German5. This figure, when related to the number of inhabitants, means that more than one in seven people (~13.6%) owns a profile at Facebook. Additionally, one of four German minor uses this network.5 Trend increasing.
Regarding the entire world population, every eleventh human being has an account.5 Besides, the network is offered in 80 specific languages.5 By now, Facebook is the 2nd most visited website (after Google)3. If Facebook was a state, it would be the nation with the third largest population in the world – mere after China and India.
Interesting: While Facebook has a market penetration4 of 49.4% percent within the United States of America, there is just a tiny percentage of Chinese men and women using it (~ 0.05%)5. Of course, cross references respecting rejection and neglect of individual freedom come up. Factual, China banned inter alia the use of Facebook in the course of their anti-democratic censorship policy.
Besides the mentioned aspects, there is the financial aspect.How is it possible to obtain revenues of 800,000,000 $ - per year?5 I will refer to this in the following, too.
Zuckerberg became the youngest billionaire in the world by the age of just 24 years.6 The most remarkable point about it: a registration at Facebook is completely free of charge.
The above-named numbers and rates lead to numerous accumulated questions and doubts. Are we already dependent on social networks? Are we losing our individual privacy in order to be fully connected? Have we reached the peak of this development? What will the future look like?
My paper discusses findings (which are mainly based on the evaluation of a survey with 58 respondents of two age classes (17-19 years and generation 20+)) related to these questions and the redefinition of privacy as well as new methods of interaction that altered the way of how people consider themselves and each other – both in the virtual and in the real environment. For the most part I will concentrate closely on the younger age group since this development is yet as far as possible undiscovered. In addition I consulted Christian Lüdtke7 for an interview in order to gain insight into an authority's attitude. Lastly I adverted my eplanation to newspaper articles as well as own knowledge. I will refer to psychological, sociological and ethical aspects regarding topical events. The complete table of results as well as an indication of used sources, you will find in attachments.
Who are we? - Social networks and the individual.
Of course, each zeitgeist has it's mannerism and paradigms. Beliefs and opinions played a major role in contemporary history.
By the advent of the Internet, social life was taken to the next, unknown level. Those days are gone and forgotten.
Nowadays, basically every adoles-cent within the age group of 17 to 19-year-olds has his counterpart in any social network. The most popular one: Facebook. 89.95 % of male respondents (total: 29) and actually 100 % of asked females (total:14) do own a profile at Facebook. Those, who have got an account, visit Facebook approximately 11 times (20+: 4.38 times, cf. fig. 1) per day hence all of them stated Facebook as one of their three most visited websites. On average, 17- to 19-year-olds spend 101.4 minutes on social networks – each day. Furthermore in theory, they are available (i.e. able to respond messages instantly by using their cellphones) to their 'friends' for about 583 minutes a day. Additionally the people asked highlighted a significant aspect: the majority of all age groups (ca. 58.11 %) registered for a social network earlier than three years ago. In comparison just one out of ten (9.11 %) registered within the last 12 months and one out of fifty (2.13 % ) has not registered yet. In conclusion, there must have been some impulse, which caused the common registration about three (or more) years ago. In order to gain further insight, I asked all 43 participants of my survey to check their reason for entering the social web community. Wihin the 'generation 20+', the prevailing reason (~40 %) for registration was to seek old friends, while two thirds of young male (65.52 %) and almost three quarters of young female students (71.14 %) were invited by friends. In general, the results from both genders are alike. Other common answers were 'I heard people talk about it and I wanted to experience this.' (~ 50 %) plus 'Because everyone else did.' (~33 %). This result suggests the snowball effect regarding the expansion of networks; therefore creators and code-writers did not need to publicize their product on a grand scale. In fact it was advertised and spread by the members themselves. This effect causes a current increment of 8 new members8, 10,000 new comments9 and 100,000 photographs10 per second.
Overall, the presented statistics fortify a widespread assumption: Social networks have had already – and still have a massive impact on our lives. In a way we are dependent on social networks. This aspect gets more obvious with reference to my survey. More than 70 % based some of their social knowledge on Facebook, a roughly identical percentage checks his individual news within a social network (as mentioned above) daily.
In addition the representational aspect of one's profile must be observed. A well-known proverb (which was affirmed by several psychological examinations) says that the first impression matters regarding initial judgement of an unacquainted person. Profiles in social networks enhance this issue. Virtually they build a basement of one's outward appearance – with a certain restriction: one do not have any ability to utilise a spoken word. Therefore, networks like Facebook contribute to contemporary materialistic and appearance-based society structure. On Facebook the one decisive instance is a few hundred pixel wide profile picture, which – in optimal case – appeals to co-workers as well as your best school day friend. Hence self-expression has a sort of precedence and captures a major role within the interplay of a social network. A little more than a third of asked adolescents think that Facebook is not about self-expression (~37.15 %, cf. Fig 2). Owing to this, members might sense a new form of stress in search of physical, outward perfection, whose inaccessible benchmarks are set by what we see on television or in cinemas. Superficiality dominates peoples' judgement, which causes a vicious circle of overreaching materialism.
Who are our friends? - Social networks and friendship.
According to a dictionary, a friend defines
'1. a person attached to another by feelings of affection or personal regard. - 2. a person who gives assistance; patron; supporter. - 3. a person who is on good terms with another; a person who is not hostile - 4. a member of the same nation, party, etc.'
93.1 % of male respondents (in contrast to 64.29 % of females) to my survey found a distinctive discrepancy between a 'real' friend and a friendship online. For instance this perception coined a recent expression in colloquial speech. By now 'to friend' is a recognised term for 'sending a friend request within a social network.'12 Interesting: Two years ago the 'New Oxford American Dictionary' selected the negative equivalent 'to unfriend' (i.e. to quit a friendship within a network) as Word of the Year 2009.13
Anyway friendship on Facebook (and accordingly within any social network) is a problematic topic, due to the fact there is no guideline, which sets out parameters that characterise a Facebook friend and differ him from a real one. One must follow an unvarying procedure to determine his definition of a friend – otherwise the elected circle of physical friends blurs with the wider range of acquaintances. According to this thesis, the survey revealed that one out of two male respondents (~ 58.62 %) and one out of four female respondents (~ 28.57 %) have already accepted a friendship request just in order to be polite – or at least with the intent not to be rude. In the broader sense, the count of friends stands in reference to your public reputation.
The immense amount of friends on Facebook starts a new debate. Prominent characters have always been considered as having seminal and exemplary roles. It is undisputed that a person of public interest like eg. Julian Draxler14 cannot have about 5000 friends in narrower sense15, not even as acquaintances. However Facebook states he does. But Draxler's friend request accepting policy creates advantages on both sides: His friends respectively his fans feel connected with and near to him in spite of his fame, while Draxler himself improves his public image. Needless to say Draxler is not the one and only prominent person, who has multiple thousands of 'friends' on Facebook, however people start to relate a count of friends to a certain popularity – without relevant cause. The average user has 130 friends.16 A well-known evolutionary anthropologist named Robin Dunbar found out that there is a limitation of the number of friends. So called Dunbar's number indicates, that a human being is mere able to handle (and have) about 150 amicable relationships due to historical and sociological reasons.17 According to this, 41.86 % of respondents stated to have more than 300 friends within one of their social networks, almost one out of seven (~13.95 %) even named their count of friends to be above four hundred. Under consideration of this aspect, the paradigm shift becomes obvious: There is a new form of status between actual friendships and hasty acquaintances – the status of 'Facebook friend'. Over a period of several years, this status greatly redefined the evaluation of interpersonal relationships.
Nevertheless a friendship within a social network is not mere a connection noted down to any server or hard disk. Theoretically the computer-based friendship could trigger a real-life friendship, too. Interestingly more than a half (~52.42 %) of young interviewees from my survey mentioned they have had a real-life conversation with or even met someone who they got to know due to their social media activity. The reason is as simple – considered under sociological aspects – as conducive: anonymity. Due to the personal latitude within a network it is easy to appeal to someone quickly. One does not need to worry about sources of irritation like nervousness as could appear in an oral conversation or a potential occurrence of antipathy of his or her opponent. Moreover neither styling nor appropriate appearance is required, because the profile picture presents one constantly in the way, he or she wants. Inside the space of virtual coupling, taking over factual any role is possible, but not always advisable at the same time. Pretence is – similar to real life – adverse regarding a long-lasting relationship.
How do we behave? - Social networks and interaction.
Interaction is a wide topic within a social network since it defines itself by members' attendance and not by conduct of programmers. Therefore the perception of a social network depends on personal experience to a high extent. In figurative terms: developers provide the tool (source code) and users accomplish their work.
The individuals' behaviour within social networks differs for the most part from habit. Applicable to this: circa 60 % of 17 to 19-year-olds affirm this statement according to their own experience. Once registered, innumerable possibilities to share or transmit messages and information are open to the individual.
Social networks are frequently used for political propaganda, such as recently happened in area of Israel: over 52,000 user clicked the 'like'-button18 on a Facebook page named 'The third Intifada'19 20. Certainly this page was created in order to organize rebellion of Palestinians against Israelis. The method of creating fan pages referring to political topics has a serious advantage: the leaders are able to amplify their target audience – virtually a community of more than 500 million people - with less effort than in former times.
In contrast to this example, most of politically-motivated items on social networking sites are created in order to build peace. Facebook contributes to this movement: there is a special enumerator which counts for instance new friendships between Israelis and Palastinians. There were exactly 15,707 within last 24 hours21 – this is international understanding on the next level such as it verifies Christian Lüdtke's statement. 'In the future, social networks will help to let the world coalesce more closely.', he says.
A totally diverging and wide subject area is the individual's behaviour. Nearly two thirds – 62,70 % - of respondents affirmed that they had already wondered about privacy and any consequences of their posts regarding their future life. According to the presented awareness, I want to refer to two topical cases in order to depict the actual complexity of the problems.
Case one displays the story of an 18-year-old woman from the United Kingdom. One day, she published the following post on Facebook: 'God, I just did the worst smelling poo ever!'22. Each of her 955 friends was able to read the status message – a number that signifies serious publicity from her point of view. The consequences to her would be nearly the same, as if she had stood in her local marketplace and tried to shout her message out as loud as she can. Even some articles regional newspapers do not have a comparable range of readers. So consequently there must be a certain line which separates interesting information from unnecessary or – in this case – offensive pieces. The young English woman definitely crossed the line. Corresponding to this incident, a hundred percent of female respondents and more than a half of males (~55.17%) stated they judged people by what they post or comment on. Thus communication online gets more seriously and consequential, with each day it is used.
1 cf.: http://www.facebook.com/marcsebastianbusch#!/markzuckerberg?sk=info, Zuckerberg, Mark: 'Allgemeines. Info', seen on the Internet on 11th March 2011 (also in the attachments)
2 cf.: http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Facebook, unknown author(s): 'Facebook' (Wikipedia article), seen on the Internet on 11th of March 2011.
3 cf.: http://www.alexa.com/topsites, Alexa Internet: 'The top 500 sites on the web', seen on the Internet on 11th of March 2011.
4 The economic term 'market penetration' describes the rate of people using a good related to the count of people who were potentially able to use it.
5 cf.: http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Facebook, unknown author(s): 'Facebook' (Wikipedia article), seen on the Internet on 11th of March 2011
6 cf.: http://www.zeit.de/digital/internet/2010-03/facebook-zuckerberg-connectu, Biermann, Kai: 'Die dunkle Vergangenheit des Mark Zuckerberg', seen on the Internet on 15th of March 2011
7 Christian Lüdtke is representative of head office of 'ERGO Lebensversicherung AG'. In addition he is executive of regional branch Münster.
8: cf.: http://www.personalizemedia.com/garys-social-media-count/, Hayes, Garry: 'Garys Social Media Count', seen on the Internet on 16th of March 2011
9: cf.: http://www.personalizemedia.com/garys-social-media-count/, Hayes, Garry: 'Garys Social Media Count', seen on the Internet on 16th of March 2011
10: cf.: http://infoblog.li/100000-neue-fotos-pro-sekunde-auf-facebook/, 'Jeffrey' (nickname): '100’000 neue Fotos pro Sekunde auf Facebook', seen on the Internet on 16th of March 2011
11 cf.: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/friend, unknown author(s): 'friend', seen on the Internet on 16th of March 2011
12 cf.: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Friend_%28Facebook%29, unknown author(s), 'Friend (Facebook)', seen on the Internet on 16th of March 2011
13 cf.: http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/AheadoftheCurve/unfriend-defriend-facebook-fans-debate/story?id=9106240, Heussner, Ki Mae: 'Unfriend or Defriend? Facebook fans debate', seen on the Internet on 16th of March 2011
14 Julian Draxler is a 17 years old professional footballer who is currently signed by football club 'FC Schalke 04'. In January 2011, after scoring the Golden Goal during German 'DFB-Pokal', his amount of social network-friends exploded rapidly.
15 cf.: http://www.facebook.com/marcsebastianbusch#!/profile.php?id=1644072990&sk=info, personal profile of Julian Draxler, seen on 20th of March 2011 (also in the attachments).
16 cf.: http://www.facebook.com/press/info.php?statistics, Facebook: 'Statistics', seen on the Internet on 20th of March 2011
17 cf. http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2010/mar/14/my-bright-idea-robin-dunbar, Krotoski, Aleks: 'Robin Dunbar: we can only ever have 150 friends at most…' written on 14th March of 2010, seen on the Internet on 29th of March
18 'like'-button: A button on Facebook which one can click, if he/she likes the post. Any user can see whether one clicked this button.
19 cf.:http://derstandard.at/1297820060472/Facebook-Aufruf-zu-neuem-Palaestinenseraufstand, APA: 'Facebook-Aufruf zu neuem Palästinenseraufstand', seen on the Internet on 22nd of March 2011.
20 Intifada means a rebellion, mostly referred to Palestinian topics
21 cf.: http://peace.facebook.com/, Facebook: 'Peace on Facebook', seen on the Internet on 22nd of March 2011.
22 cf.: Schloemann, Johan: 'Seiten ändern dich', Süddeutsche Zeitung Nr. 3 (published on 5th/6th of January 2011), page 13