Some Notes on Facebook
Originally written in 2006 for a class on anthropology.
Facebook as a shaman, village leader, or rabbi figure.
- In the past, a shaman or village leader would be the one to write down what was going on in the community. Now, that shaman is collectively facebook. That shaman is whom all students tell their stories to, and then he writes them into a visual history.
- This makes Facebook into a tribal scrapbook
Facebook as a family album for surrogate college student bonded family networks.
- Facebook can be seen as a sort of artificial intelligence. Through its news feed feature, it can tells other users what happened in the community.
- Friends are the new surrogates for family when the student goes to college. The well rounded student has a close-knit group of friends whom he or she can relate with. Those friend groups are easily seen on Facebook. Though they change members form time to time, those member changes can be easily seen. Overall, the group size is generally conserved. Facebook aids those friends in communicating across distances, providing a visual cell phone-like history, and a “family album” of photos, ideas, writings, and events for the new surrogate family.
- Cultural traditions can be developed and shown online: Families can develop rituals or cultures. Events can be established every Friday night that members of the social groups are invited to, and only these group members can see them.
Facebook as a presentation of self, as Second Self
- Erving Goffman’s Presentation of Self in Everyday Life
- Facebook is people in a nutshell. A quick look at someone, akin to a look at clothing. One can also see ideas as well as clothing, education, and friendships.
- This fits in with the consumer culture of America that demands expedience. One wants information at the click of a button.
Streamlined features are what makes facebook easily adopted by the mainstream.
- The newsfeed eliminates the need to click on separate profiles to view happens in friend’s lives.
- The album tool allows people to click on photos on a person and see all photos taken of that person.
- The album tool allows a visual history of event and interaction between facebook members.
- The interest tool allows one to click on a word and be linked to all other sin a network that also defined themselves with that word.
- The wall function allows for communication that is more expedient than email or the facebook message tool .it allows the user to read at the bottom of the page what is needed to be said.
- The picture comment tool allows a forum of voices to be place on the page. It is easier than mailing each other about comments. It allows for a visual forum, with each picture taking the place of an old forum topic. This follows the trend of the internet that is as follows
- Text: beginning of net was text. News networks claimed it was an amazing egalitarian atmosphere, where people with computers (socioeconomic inequalities) could easily communicate with each other, sans race, political idea, clothing, or region. All that would be seen were one’s words, one’s ideas, one’s thoughts. (tie in Bruno Latour with his exchange of material, people and ideas)…the open forum for groups of college students made it so that ideas could be exchanged. It was just text and an interface. No iconoclasms there.
- Pictures changed this. Once pictures were there, websites became boxed and blocky. Visual information decided whether a person was sophisticated or not, because layout was akin to a building’s structure. The more sophisticated the building structure, the more expensive it was. Aesthetics created a form of inequality because they were the first internet based presentation of self.
- Pictures of people came, and the way people looked. People posted pictures of themselves on their own personal websites, which became a further extension of their presentation of self. They could provide things such as interests, work, and activities, as well as pictures of friends and family…but for the most part, the websites were static. They were not updated often, and were around 1995. some gave recipes or “how to” projects; information that was meant to be semi-permanent and non-fluctual.
- Blogs arrived on the scene. A digitalization of the journal, and blog design appeared as well. It was a transformation of the personal webpage into a more dynamic entity, where the user could post as his psyche developed, which is akin to a scanning electron microscope. A blog takes statistical analysis of a user’s words and then compiles them over time to form an overall composite image of that person. Those with “good” blogs; blogs that were of specific interest, with good readability, pandered to some specific area of thought or review, and were updated regularly usually won out. But the user interface had to be good, else the reader’s would lose interest because of the decreased expediency. A blog would get many comments and could be covered by a news network if it became popular enough.
- Myspace and facebook became available as mini-website/blog profiles. They were more glorified versions of these because they allotted a great individualism to the user. Whereas there was a rise in the amount of personal webpages on the net that mostly had the same information (ideas, interests, pictures of the self, family, friends, and college information) the pages were not tied together in a cohesive manner. They were spread across the internet. Myspace was one of the first to offer webpages to everyone, hosted under the same server, that would allow a connection of ideas and interests. Myspace allowed for the posting of 8 pictures of the self or others, and allowed a preprogramed blog as well as friend buttons, friend search tools, base business networking tools, and video postings.
- But Myspace was not as streamlined as Facebook. Myspace profiles become more difficult to navigate for the common user. They only allow 8 photo uploads, and many pages can be characterized by ugly colors and annoying music. Furthermore, friends can be established that are not categorized by geographical location.
- Facebook can also be seen as an extension of the old ideals of the telecommunication companies. In the 1980’s, MCI established itself as a company that reconnected people. An ad from MIC stated that the customer could send MCI a list of close friends and family, and MCI would contact them. All friends and family would receive a discount of 20% on calls. In this way, explains Sociologist Robert Goldman, “MCI positions itself as a conduit through which an atrophied relation can be reestablished and revitalized…[and] the ad positions MCI as the company whose service plan fights the erosion of personal relationships” (Goldman, 126). If the word facebook is inserted in the place of MCI in the above quote, part of the mission statement of Facebook crystallizes.
- People worship images. Iconoclasm theories. People like Facebook because it allows them to stare at others, when they can often not look at people in real life. It allows them to dissect a person and categorize them as they like. It allows a greater expedience in doing this than in real life. Like pornography, where the person may view a person without the person viewing back, many female profiles have become akin to soft core pornography as a means for attention. Instead of real life, where the individual might dress scantily and be looked upon by many, she still has a choice in looking back and discouraging staring behavior, but online her pictures can be stared at by many without being able to stare back. The anonymous gaze (example Madison Strasheim).
Facebook and ANT (Actor Network Theory) and the agency of nonhumans.
- For a workplace to function, workers just arrive every day to work, else the meaning is lost between material, idea, and person, and no ideas can be created in that realm any longer. Facebook also has this weakness. It does not create itself, but is continuously created by the user; without users, it would not qualify as any useful object, both to the user and to the advertiser, since trends would quickly obscure the statistical use of facebook.
- "It will be objected that “things” and “people” still remain, and that we are still using the expressions “humans” and “nonhumans” (Latour, 72). Facebook is used as a tool. It is not human, but nonhuman, and with it, people can form groups that have cohesiveness to them. The Facebook group against the news feed was one such group that gained over 300,000 members before Mark Zukerburg and his team established greater controls of privacy over the information sharing side of the site.
- In Facebook terms, a profile is a non-human representative of a human, and the profile a human representation of a non-human database. With the addition of the news feed, these two elements have combined, allowing the user to interact with others on the network without thinking much about the interface. The interface is merely the background for the base interaction between two humans. It is a simplified version of conversation, and is even often more revealing than a face to face discussion.
Things to Expand
Material Semiotics: relationships between materials. Relationships between ideas, materials, and people would be Facebook. Real life provides materials. Computers provide faster connections between these materials and ideas about them, acting as connectors of materials.
Goldman, Robert, and Papson, Stephen. 1996. Sign Wars: The Cluttered Landscape of Advertising. Guildford Press. New York. Goldman and Papson provide a deconstruction of the advertisement in popular culture and provide a historically relevant analysis of what goes into the creation of the modern day advertisement.
Latour, Bruno. 2004. Politics of Nature: How to Bring the Sciences into Democracy. Harvard University Press, London.