I wrote the following paper for a sociology class last year, and thought I should share it here. Hope you find it interesting. (10/25/2010)
Facebook, a social network of prominence today has a clientele which grows daily. I have chosen to refer to users of this social network, as “The Facebooker (s).” According to Courtney Ramirez, “Facebook is the most dominant social networking site in the world.” This project which started in 2004 by Mark Zuckerberg, who initially created something called Facemash in October of 2003, has taken wings beyond the very comprehension of its creator. This new social form began with an aim to attract University students. It has since opened its doors to high school students which have only served to increase its usage. In his article, Ramirez says, “In April of 2008, Facebook outranked MySpace by total number of visitors for the first time. Facebook had 123.9 million unique visitors and MySpace had 114.6 [million] unique visitors.” Such clear evidence substantiates the formation of such a term as “The Facebook-er.”
It is my view that if Georg Simmel was alive today, he would see the entire social network world with all its diverse names and forms, as a new social form with many sub-forms. Such form would most likely captivate him, hold his interest, and thus, would become one of his many butterfly-ish pursuits. He would take a particular keen interest in “The Facebooker” form. According to our class text , Illuminating Social Life, “Simmel argued during his professional life for “the conception that society consists of a web of patterned interactions, and that it is the task of sociology to study the forms of these interactions as they occur and reoccur in diverse historical periods and cultural settings.” As if Simmel had long seen the future, the development of the World Wide Web, the formation of social networks and more so, as if he was ready to study Facebook and its impact on society, his above mentioned statement is so timely. It captures the concept of connection. The use of the word “web” to refer to a pattern of interaction is right on target. The Facebook-er certainly lives in somewhat of a web.
The Facebook-er lives in a world where he or she becomes both connected to a community, with several sub-communities within it, yet is often alienated, or separated from his or her actual immediate community. It is so easy for the Facebook-er to get entangled into the Facebook society while time elapses often without their actual notice. Work, study, family togetherness, and personal one on one time with friends, all suffer when “The Facebook-er” gets immersed into their virtual world. Productivity is said to decrease in many sectors, people’s personal life stories are shared with “facebook – friends”, walls become news papers, love letters, poetry boards, prayer rooms, and an unending means of self expressions. With such vast usage of the virtual space, where the user becomes an addict in many instances, one could argue that the main, if not sole underlying purpose behind the use of this social form is the need for interaction. According to Simmel, “the major field of study for the student of society is, therefore, sociation, that is, the particular patterns and forms in which men associate and interact with each other.”
As a budding sociologist, I can’t help, but to see this as an area or pattern worth studying. While one may see all the odds of the life of the Facebook-er, who must return for a daily fix of the Facebook drug, it can be argued that this social form allows for interaction. It gives the voiceless a voice, allows the angry to vent, empowers the coward to try bravery, constantly asks the Facebook-er “what’s on your mind?” and still creates the avenue for its user to reveal his or her best face. The Facebook-er feels a sense of belonging, they gain interaction with people in various parts of the world, they forget their problems, if but for a moment, relish the chances to befriend new people, fall in love, relinquish relationships as they please, and build bridges where they see fit. All these activities are frills on the border of interaction, and are experienced by “The-Facebook-er who is seeking to maintain a sense of connection with his or her world, be it virtual and or real. Interactions, resulting from the need to socialize, to form society, to feel important, and to get needs met, are the reasons for the development of such a social form and its counterparts.
“In terms of Simmel’s famous form/content dichotomy: any social phenomenon is composed of two elements which in reality are inseparable (distinction is only analytical).
1) Content: the interest, purpose, or motive of the phenomenon or interaction
2) Form: the mode of interaction among individuals through/in the shape of which the specific content achieves social reality. Furthermore, the existence of society requires a reciprocal interaction among its individual elements, mere spatial or temporal aggregation of parts is not sufficient.” – Donald Levine. This above quote confirms to a large extent the experiences of the Facebook-er. Facebook creates the platform for reciprocity. People affirm each other, like each other’s comments, share their lives updates with others, read the stories of others and remain updated about their progression or regression. The Facebook-er finds more than a mere spacial or temporal aggregation in their world, for Facebook has both content and form. I have no hesitation in concluding that this concept of interaction via the use of the internet is indeed a social form itself.
Illuminating Social Life, 4th Edition – Classical and Contemporary Theory Revised – Edited by Peter Kivisto.