Final paper

June 3, 2010

The internet has become a fixture of our modern times but many debate its impact on society. It can be seen as a tool of isolation or an instrument of connection. It is my assertion that the internet brings people closer together.

The internet brings people closer together because it connects distant individuals. For a course experiment I chatted with a random stranger for fifteen minutes, and the experience was surprisingly pleasant (Experiment #3). I got to interact with a person who I never would have actually met, which made the world feel much more interconnected, and a smaller, friendlier place.

I also experienced an instance of connection via the internet during another course experiment; I joined an online community that discussed movies and posed a question to the group, and people actually responded to my request for the saddest movie ever viewed (Experiment #4).  The internet allowed these forum members to talk and pose questions to one another; putting people in communication with one another and allowing them to dialogue. I was able to join this group quickly and easily, and pose a question within minutes of joining; whereas finding a group of people willing to critically discuss movies at any hour of the day in real life is much more difficult. The group was also very open about discussing personal opinions which made me feel closer to these people I had never met.

The reading for week four discussed online communities and the way that individuals bond and form friendships through the internet. “Living in Virtual Communities” documented how people form friendships in an online community named Cybercity. The researcher found that “Cybercity is not a place outside of everyday life. Rather it is both embedded in, and an integral part of, its inhabitants daily lives, as illustrated by the number of friendships, 69 per cent, that are successfully moved into offline life” (160). The fact that the majority of these connections transition into ‘the real world’ shows that the friendships formed online are real enough to the participants that they consider one another friends offline as well. Since Cybercity ‘is not a place outside of everyday life’ it is understood to be a new ‘site’ of meeting new people, just like any real world location. The fact that real friendships develop through the site shows that the internet brings people closer together.

Another way that the internet brings people closer together is the enhanced ability that internet users have to keep in touch with a wide network of connections on social networking sites. The reading for week six, “The Benefits of Facebook Friends,” questions whether or not online tools help users generate offline social capital and found that the weak ties that users maintain through the internet help people access new perspectives and information beyond a person’s tightest circle of friends. Social networking sites, such as Facebook, also help people solidify ties that would otherwise be passing. Sites help people connect with others, maintain relationships, and sustain weak ties. The reading found that the internet aids users in meeting new people and strengthening real offline relationships. Facebook also enables individuals to mobilize their weak ties; Facebook users can help each other with information shared through the site. Facebook lets people who may be separated geographically, remain in contact and involved in one another’s lives; another example of the internet bringing people closer together.

Despite fears that computer use is creating a generation of lost and lonely people, the explosion of internet use has given “the option for people to come out of separate spaced and into shared spaces. Now, just because someone is using a computer does not mean that he is alone and not communicating with others” (Easter 20). Whether using the internet to chat with random people, discuss things on online forums, create friendships in virtual communities, or mobilize one’s weak ties, the internet can be a great instrument of connecting people. Like anything, there are issues and dangers with internet usage, but responsible and constructive internet use can greatly enhance one’s ability to communicate with close friends and distant acquaintances, as well as the ability to create new friendships online that transition offline. The internet can make the world a smaller, more interconnected place, and brings people closer together.

Works Cited

Carter, Denise. “Living in Virtual Communities: an Ethnography of Human Relationships in Cyberspace.” Information, Communication & Society 8:2 (2005): 153-65.

Easter, Jeffrey. “Happiness and the Internet.”

Ellison, N.B., Steinfield, C., & Lampe, C. “The Benefits of Facebook ‘Friends:’ Social Capital and College Students’ Use of online Social Network Sites.” Journal of Computer-mediated Communication (2007):1145-48, 1153-65.

Week 3 Experiment: Chatting with a random stranger online.

Week 4 Experiment: Join an online community.

Advertisements

Week 9: The Internet and Happiness

May 28, 2010

Experiment:

The ways I try to seek happiness online is through interacting with my friends on facebook through messages, wall posts, events (and event walls), commenting on photos and sharing funny websites or videos that I think they would enjoy. I realized that I do not use the facebook chat feature or chat on aim though. I like watching YouTube videos to listen to new music, as well as going to links that my friends send to me. I sometimes look at outer space, aerial and nature photography and fashion blogs.  I also enjoy reading a webzine for college students that discusses issues like friendships, faith, and relationships, and updates from other mailing lists I subscribe to. I seek happiness offline by hanging out with friends, watching movies, listening to music, talking on the phone, and cooking and talking with my roommates. I think the ways I seek happiness online and offline are similar, because I use the internet to expand and complement my ‘real life’ activities, especially in regards to communicating with my friends, since I plan future activities and interactions via the internet. I also share videos and such with my friends and we will sometimes watch videos together. The day I did the online experiment I received an encouraging message from my friend, and watched a really cute video that was posted on my friend’s wall, which made me happy, but I must say that hanging out and taking pictures with my friends was more fulfilling. I social interactions I had online made me happy because I was talking with my friends, but seeing them in reality is just more fun.

Reading:

The reading had some pretty philosophical definitions of happiness; ‘eudaimonia’ and the ‘autotelic personality’ describes the truly happy as those whose happiness is not dependent on external rewards or manipulated by others, but are those who are fully immersed in the present. I think a sense of satisfaction, wholeness, and fulfilling one’s purpose are also part of the feeling of happiness. I thought the reading made a good point when discussing the fear that computer users are isolated and anti-social, and presented the reality that with the internet, people can interact and communicate with others and that social networks can fulfill unmet needs of support that modern society doesn’t support otherwise. I think that our final paper will contest or confirm the claims that social networks are not effective in greatly improve people’s lives.

Week 8: Online Dating

May 21, 2010

Experiment:

I began searching through dating profiles on match.com by filtering for location. I searched for men, within five miles of 90024. While exploring the profiles I realized that I clicked on people’s profiles based on their picture, username, and age. The first guys whose profile I read presented himself as a nice guy, but his headline was very sexual which made me see him in a whole different light. And I think some people on the site were lying about their age! Then my I switched it up and searched for men in New York to see the difference. From the few profiles I read, I found that New Yorkers included less description about themselves and their ideal date than the Los Angeles guys. In my New York search I forced myself to read the profile of someone who I didn’t think was attractive and I was right; we had nothing in common and on top of that he couldn’t spell. I think I could tell by his picture that we were incompatible. In my search I did not find anyone I would be interested in dating.

Reading:

The reading explored the phenomena of internet dating and tried to isolate factors that increase the likelihood of utilizing an internet dating site “for mate selection.”  I thought the article offered an interesting explanation of the rise of internet dating; as people use the internet often in their daily life, it is logical that they would turn to the internet to help them find a date. With the later age of marriage and the frequency of relocation, young people find themselves distant from their established social networks and traditional avenues of finding potential partners. The internet has filled the role that intermediaries like close friends and family, once did.  The reading concludes that social networks, attitude towards internet dating, and computer literacy have the biggest affect on internet dating site use.

Week 7: Privacy Paradox

May 14, 2010

So here is what I found out from stalking Brian: Brian Lee was born on October 31st, 1988. He has a mom, dad, and sister and his hometown in Northridge California. He likes yoojacha and riding his white foldable bike. He enjoys board games and video games; especially Star Craft and Xbox games. He lives in the apartments in Westwood and is a Sociology major. He is planning on taking an LSAT prep course this summer. He went to community college and transferred to UCLA. His house almost burned down in the Southern California wildfires in 2008. He is a big time procrastinator, and sometimes doubts his choices. He goes to Korea town often and is a member of Bruin ICA, a Christian group on campus.
Some points I found significant in the readings was the concept of ‘internet as panopticon’ and I agree that the internet can influence behavior simply because of the possibility of being observed. I see this in own life in the fact that my friends will sometimes take pictures for the sole purpose of showcasing them on facebook. I thought the phrase ‘sharing cultural artifacts’ was a funny sociological way of describing how people share links to interesting sites and videos on social networking sites. I also think it is very true that people can share much more information than they are aware of because they have the ‘illusion of privacy.’

Week 6 : Online Networking

May 7, 2010

This past week I asked three questions as my status and I got one or two responses each. Although those are not overwhelming numbers I thought it was very nice that people would respond- I had a hard time thinking of good questions to ask because I usually just Wikipedia questions I have rather than asking them on facebook. But the responses I got served to remind me how many people can see my statuses! And I had a diverse group of responders; one of my best friends, my sister, an old UCLA friend who graduated, and my cousin. This experiment activated our weak ties and asked people to give us information.
Parts of the reading reminded me of readings I am doing for another sociology class right now, sociology of immigration, because both talk about the benefits of weak ties, and the information flows that occur in weak tie networks. I just learned about a community of immigrants in Texas and their patterns of legalization/naturalization. Researchers found that people with larger networks of weak ties were much more likely to complete the process of achieving legal status than those with small networks.
This reading also articulated a finding that I think perfectly describes facebook’s capacity to solidify relationships- facebook can “solidify what would otherwise be ephemeral, temporary acquaintanceships.” When I read that sentence I immediately thought of my own experience with this phenomena-In one of the first few weeks of freshman year I friended a girl that I met and briefly spoke to in the laundry room, and I don’t think I have spoken to her since! But we are still facebook friends, and I can see her updates and photos. As the reading said, facebook helps us maintain existing ties and keep tabs on distant acquaintances (or in my case practically- stranger acquaintances) .

Week 5: Cyber-addiction

April 30, 2010

Experiment

Not going online for 24 hours accomplished! It was kind of hard because I wanted to check my email and facebook just to see what’s going on and I wanted to look up random facts, questions I had and song lyrics but I had to delay gratification and wait until I could look it up  when I usually  just follow my impulse to go online.

I can get lost online very easily and for some short periods of college I have felt like I was addicted to the internet and it would negatively affect my life. I would be really upset at myself for wasting soo much time online; facebook and YouTube are my biggest ways to sabotage myself.  I would have to regulate my screen time and actually pay attention to how much time I was spending online and give myself half hour time increments.

Reading

I had heard of this theory of social control, through distraction, but I never knew the name of it. I agree with the article that an Orwellian world would be easier to recognize than a Huxleyan world. I think it is hilarious that the article’s author “must appear on television to promote a book that warns people against television.”  But I don’t really understand the author’s assertion that “we would all be better of it television got worse, not better.” Perhaps it is to decrease interest in television? And I am also confused as to why 60-minutes, news, and Sesame Street are threats to public health. Because they pose as intellectually rigorous, reliable sources of information but they actually aren’t? I also notice a lack of trust in the competence of schools in teaching media consciousness. I think this author is pretty paranoid and I disagree with the author’s statement esteeming the of limiting television (which we may also apply to internet); “many civilized nations limit by law the amount of hours television may operate and thereby mitigate the role television plays in public life.” I think that the regulating of time spent being entertained by television or internet is up to individuals and adults of households rather than governments imposing limits for ‘the protection of the people.’ The recent internet controls imposed in Iran limiting access to social networking sites to squelch riots makes me leery of any attempt for governments to control internet or television access.

Week 4: Online Communities

April 23, 2010

I found the “Living in Virtual Communities” reading interesting and slightly disturbing. The reading discussed the virtual community, Cybercity, and how people form friendships through their interactions in the virtual city. It is funny to me that researchers look for how friendship is defined in this community and uncover that it is a key purpose of living in Cybercity when facebook blatantly makes ‘friends’ and connecting with them the purpose of facebook by calling the links with others ‘friends.’ The thing about the reading that disturbed me was that people are creating friendships with people they have never actually met in real life. Cybercity dwellers addressed this and said that not everybody on the internet is a murderer luring you or a pedophile which is true, but it still seems wrong to me somehow. Maybe I have internalized all the warnings about ‘not friending anyone you don’t know in real life’? The people in the Cybercity community seem to value their online interactions as equally, if not more satisfying than their real life relationships, which I also find somewhat strange. I think not actually being in someone’s real physical life makes them hard to imagine as a real person, so I enjoyed the readings section on meeting up with Cybercity friends. I don’t think I have ever made a friend that I didn’t also know in real life. Unlike Cybercity though, facebook asks you when confirming a friend request ‘Do you know this person?’ which means that the purpose of facebook is sharing with people you already know, rather than meeting new strangers from all over the world.

So for the experiment this week I joined a movie forum site and posted a thread asking people what movie made them cry in theaters. I thought this was a genius question and one that I was interested in knowing the answers to. So far one person has responded and began by telling me that there is another thread about this topic but that they would respond anyway (the film they suggested was Magnolias). It made me feel like such a poser in this community that seems to take itself very seriously but I was glad I got at least one response!

http://www.movieforums.com/community/showthread.php?t=22433

Week 3: Our Online Selves

April 16, 2010

The reading Identity Construction and Self Presentation on Personal Homepages discussed the role of homepages in creating a deliberate identity, or expressing a suppressed identity. Users can find emancipation from the ways that they present themselves in daily life that is prone to errors, miscommunication, and incomplete expression. Personal homepages allow people to present themselves in an orderly and systematic fashion on their own terms. Since the personal homepage allows for people to have more control over the impression that they give to others, they can showcase traits, qualities, preferences and opinions, as well as overlook their flaws and possible problems. People can use personal homepages not only to express their ‘real’ selves more thoroughly, but can also use them to explore alternative identities. In my opinion personal homepages that are linked to a network of friends are more likely to portray content that is grounded in reality, since people’s homepages are visible by people who know them in real life and will hold them accountable for the material that they post. Random chats do not require any context of reality and as such can be used to create a false identity.
Our experiment this week is to talk to a random person on a chat site and convince them that we are someone else. I did a lot of preparation for my chat- I figured out where I lived, what my job was, how old I was, my marital status, how many kids I had. I knew all my vital stats about the life of my fake identity and almost none of it came out in my chat because it would have been very unnatural to just state facts about myself that were outside of our conversation.( I was a 45 year old beautician from outside of Houston Texas that owned her own salon and had two children. My husband is a cardiac surgeon and we have a dog named Rusty.) I was very worried about the conversation and my roommate sat next to me and helped me respond but after we got started it was actually pretty fun and the 15 minutes went by really fast. I was worried that I would be found out as an imposter, but my “conversational partner” did not question my identity one bit, which just shows that we have to accept people’s word and self description when on the internet. Before doing this I wondered what type of people would go on this site and I was pleasantly surprised that my chat partner seemed like a pretty normal person. I also thought it would be funny if I was randomly paired with someone from our class who was trying out their fake identity on me.

Below is the transcript of my conversation with a stranger

You’re now chatting with a random stranger. Say hi!

Stranger: hi (please no asl)

You: hi

You: how ya doin

Stranger: good. I got to take a nap today

Stranger: how are you?

You: napping is very nice

You: i’m good

Stranger: i had a baby tuesday, so todays nap was like the first time i slept since then

You: i actually took a nap today too

Stranger: napping is the bomb

You: congratulations! i am a new empty nester so you’re just getting started

You: is it a boy or a girl?

Stranger: what’s an empty nester?

Stranger: girl

You: my last child just left for college

Stranger: ohh. i get it

Stranger: do you have a dog?

You: so now its just me and my husband and rusty

You: i do!

Stranger: yay! everyone should have a dog

You: do you have a dog as well?

Stranger: yep. a cockapoo which I don’t like saying but i love her anyway

You: awww those are cute dogs

Stranger: yeah she has a really sweet personality. what kind of dog is yours?

You: rusty is a mangy mutt we found a few years ago- he doesn’t look like much but we love him anyways

You: so we are not really sure…

Stranger: not everything is about looks

You: true true

Stranger: my baby looks like a meatloaf but I love her too

You: they grow out of that stage soon

Stranger: my midwife swore she’d cute up. i am hoping she wasn’t just lying to make me feel good

You: its true, their heads will become less of a cone

You: did you do a home birth?

Stranger: oh my god no. my mother tried to schedule me a c section – there’s no way she would have let me have a baby in the house. “What if the carpets get stained?”

You: that’s funny!

Stranger: she’s kind of prissy

You: is she around to help?

Stranger: well i mean, i live with her, so she’s around. but my mother hates kids. she’s not going to babysit or anything

You: is the father around?

Stranger: oh totally. i would have had an abortion if he wasn’t going to stay involved

You: well i’m glad he’s around

Stranger: me too !

You: have you decided on a name?

Stranger: my boyfriend picked it. my mother hated everything i chose so he offered to take the blame

You: how kind of him

Stranger: lol, he’s good like that

You: are you excited about motherhood?

Stranger: um not really. more scared. she’s very floppy

You: i remember those times, you have to hold their heads up and everything!

You: but it is very rewarding

Stranger: yeah i already flopped her head once. if she turns out retarded it’s going to be my fault

You: i was so worried about dropping them- mothers tend to blame themselves for everything anyways

Stranger: OH MY GOD!

You: don’t worry hun you’re going to be great

You: what?!

Stranger: it never occured to me i might DROP HER

Stranger: thanks a lot (j/k)

You: oh no- i didn’t mean to worry you!

You: now you’re pulling my leg – Haha

Stranger: lol, sorry couldn’t resist. i haven’t given her a bath yet because i’m scared to drop her

Stranger: she’s already so floppy. wet + floppy can’t be any easier

You: oh my hubby just came in and he’s ready to watch a movie

You: i’ve got to run

Stranger: cool, bye!

You: it was nice talking to you and congratulations again!

Stranger: thanks 🙂 you too!

Your conversational partner has disconnected.

Week Two

April 6, 2010

The reading for this week addressed many issues that arise from the use of facebook that I had never seen articulated and I think it is fun to approach this social medium from an academic perspective. In response to the prompt for this week I will focus my discussion to the questions of privacy and potential problems created by facebook. The biggest potential problem that the use of facebook creates in my opinion is access of your information by unwelcome individuals and the misuse of your personal information. Time for a personal anecdote; my first year I signed up with a group to play assassins (a game in which all people playing are randomly selected other people to ‘kill’ by marking with marker, last one standing wins). On the first day of active play I carefully made my way to class, wearing long sleeves to prevent any surprises, and approached my lecture hall. Right at the bottom of the stairs to the class a fellow student asked me what class was inside and I stupidly stopped to reply. You can guess what happened next- and I stood there dumbstruck with marker on my neck and asked my assassin how he found me. He responded that he found my schedule on the ‘class schedule’ application I had filled out on my facebook! When I got home I deleted that application immediately. Another potential problem that the article addressed was the problem of ‘feeling like you have seen the baby, since you have seen it online.’ Sometimes I have so much information about a person inside my head and I am thinking about them and caring for them but they do not know it if I remain afar. One has to confirm their feelings and intentions with actions in reality.

The publicity of facebook profiles and status updates can promote the dissoluation of privacy, but only with the users consent. With privacy settings people have the power to remain as private as they wish, or conversely as open. I liked the comparison of newsfeed to a small-town gossip magazine. Facebook does not force you to update your status nor to answer every question such as favorite music, or the about me section. You don’t even have to have a wall and can only accept private messages if you wish. People who join twitter and get that Loopt app obviously don’t want privacy and prefer for their information to be shared. Those who desire to have no privacy and boundaries must enjoy knowing the possibility that anyone can be looking at them or searching for them since they remain open to that possibility. Today I have been updating my status every two hours, which is not my style. I worry that others will find this annoying but so far I have received positive feedback but who knows how many people have hidden my statuses from their newsfeed. I have so much more to say but we are supposed to keep this to two paragraphs so I will save it for class- See you all then!