This article is one that provides several different viewpoints on social networking, specifically addressing the question “is social networking good for society?” The question is answered from economic, psychological and sociological perspectives. Altogether there are six different responses to this.
One response is from an assistant professor of Telecommunication, Information Studies and Media at Michigan State University. She believes that overall, social networking has provided enough benefits to be an improvement to society and its utility will become greater over time. Political activities organized through Facebook, jobs acquired through online job search sites and overall social improvements have made social networking surprisingly beneficial. Originally the research team she was a part of was attempting to figure out why students use Facebook despite its seeming to have more detriments than benefits. Their results surprised them as they discovered the students that used Facebook had more “social capital”, or benefits individuals receive from relationships with others, than those who did not use Facebook. They found that overall, as our social structures change and digital communication becomes more prevalent every day, social networking is something that can benefit us as a society.
A professor of psychology at Sheffield Hallam University found the question more difficult to answer from a psychological standpoint. One thing he could conclude is that online social interactions are a useful way to keep in touch with people as our social groups become geographically difficult to reach. He does not see social networking as something that will necessarily doom society to no longer engage in intimate face-to-face relations. He argues that we need that intimate contact to form meaningful and lasting relationships, and social networking will not change this. Whether it is overall good or bad for society, he cannot answer. All he can say is the answer to such a question depends on the kind of society you value.
A former Apple Marketing Director also shares mixed feelings about social networking’s impact on society. He believes it has changed society for the better, but at a cost. We are more efficient in terms of keeping in touch, and progressing in business technology, but we have also developed a heavy (and perhaps unhealthy) dependency on the connective power of web-based technologies. In a sense we have developed a “wireless electronic leash” that allows us to connect to anything and also become weighed down with the oversaturation of information.
A senior fellow at the Brookings Institution agrees that social networking has definitely changed our society, but not necessarily in ways that everyone will see as positive. There are “pluses and minuses” to the situation. Pluses include easy contact with friends, chances to make new friends and find new communities, and chances to form romantic relationships. Minuses include the abuse of the service through malicious gossip, the complete withdrawal from personal contact in favor of online contact, and the possibilities of inappropriate things being posted for potential employers to see. Essentially, he concludes that a user of social networking must be aware of these things.
An associate professor at the M.I.T. Media Lab presents her points clearly and concisely. The benefits of social networking include keeping up with a large social circle, being able to make new friends and socializing online. The detriments of social networking include the devaluing of friendship; rather than looking for trust, support, or common values in a person, we can simply click on their name and become “friends”. In addition, online profiles can become an arena for cyber-bullying (which is not exclusive to teenagers, as this article sadly demonstrates) and vicious competition. In terms of “the big picture”, she argues that social networking has increased our abilities to make ties to people, but most of them are weak ties. In another sense, with those ties we have more opportunities and perspectives. She concludes the same thing many of the others did: whether social networking is good or bad depends on how you view its benefits and its detriments, and the kind of society you value.
The article concludes with the opinion of a fellow at the Harvard University Berkman Center for Internet and Society. She argues that social networking has good and bad to it, but that overall it is merely a reflection of our society. Just as there are positive and negative aspects to society, there are positive and negative aspects to social networking technology. The important thing is that we do not seek the place the blame of negative effects solely on social networking. She argues that news media often portrays social networking as a large cause of detrimental effects in society, but it is not the fault of the social networking. It is only a tool which can magnify the problems already present in society so much that they cannot be ignored.
Personally, I found all the opinions to be informative and reasonable. I can agree that whether social networking is “good or bad” is a difficult question to answer, and how you answer really depends on the values you personally hold. As a result, I found the last opinion in the article to be especially prevalent and a good way to conclude. Social networking technology, just like many other types of technology, is a reflection of our offline society. Like the second opinion, it may be easier for us to have “friends” on Facebook, but as a society we still crave intimate and personal relationships. Social networking is definitely changing our society, but is it a positive change or a negative one? Does it come at a cost?
Just as the former Apple Marketing Director pointed out, there is a cost. With the birth of the internet and the “information highway” reputation it has earned, society has become even more concerned with knowledge. As a society, we have become vastly overburdened with information. This can be seen in two ways: as a stepping stone to a greater and more enlightened society, or as an oversaturated mass of people connected to digital technologies.
Wikipedia might teach us things in ways that are easy to understand. It allows us to post our own knowledge for all on the internet to see. Some aim to use this ability to share knowledge and enlighten society. Others abuse the ability and are simply looking for a laugh or some attention. Do the positives outweigh the negatives? That depends on the kind of information you seek.
The way social networking affects my generation’s communication style is strange to describe. In a way, we are connected to a greater number of people via digital technology than we would ever be without it. Yet at the same time, we often are not “connected” to people in the same sense as pre-internet relationships can reflect. We seek friends. We are social. We have close friends and friends that we know well, friends that we spend time with outside of Facebook or Instant Messenger. But we also have an alternate set of “friends” online, who we know only through the internet, or vaguely through a friend of a friend, or maybe just because you liked their Facebook profile picture.
Are these “connections” the same as those we share with our family and close friends? Admittedly, the answer to this is probably not. But this is not to say that social networking does not have great potential to form meaningful connections akin to those we share with family and close friends. With such easy access to other people, we are certainly capable of forming new relationships with others via social networking. It is simply a matter of individual choice. We can either choose to use social networking as a positive tool, or we can choose to use it as a negative one.