Monday, April 14, 2008

Social Hierarchies Online

It's crazy to think about how dramatically online communities have changed the face of teenage society. I got drawn into these online networks starting November 2003 when I was convinced by a girl to sign up on These type of sites first had a stigma for boys because previous online communities like seemed to be used only by girls as a sort of "diary" that they shared with their other little girly friends. So when I was first on Friendster I almost had to laugh when I admitted being on it and mention that my friend Nicole made me. Too soon, however, Friendster was integrated into my daily life so thoroughly that I couldn't imagine living without it.

I was 15 years old, discovering the LA teen party scene, playing guitar in a band, trying to meet as many girls as possible. I was clearly trying to find a place in society--one that I would be proud to show off on an online profile. It was simply too much fun to see how my peers decided to represent themselves on their profile. I would laugh at the profiles of my close friends, because I knew them so well and knew what they were trying to do when they chose a certain photo as their profile picture.

The coolest part about Friendster was that when you looked at people's profiles, it would show you how you were connected to that person. (i.e. You --> Jesse --> Anna --> Sarah --> Kate.) I was connected to Kate because I knew Jesse through Anna through Sarah, who was a close friend of Kate. It always tripped me out to realize how crazy the intricate matrix of social interaction in a given population was. We would realize that everyone was connected.

Well, soon came MySpace, which gave further opportunities to personalize the page by allowing HTML in the input fields, as mentioned by Boyd in "Why Youth <3 Social Network Sites..." on page 11. Using HTML, I made the background of my profile a cool-looking picture that was black with neon lights or something like that. I plastered my profile with pictures of me with my girlfriend, me drinking, me climbing a tree, etc. I also put pictures of my favorite bands or albums along the left column. When you "entered" my profile, a song by RDJ2 came on, giving my page a sort of cinematic "music video" effect and suggesting an esoteric crowd that I had good "underground" musical tastes.

The search for power is a key element of online communities for teenagers. I know that I felt good about my entire life if I had a really attractive profile picture and lots of hot girls commenting on my Testimonial section. Even today, 5 minutes on Facebook can make my day, or it can make me feel sort of inadequate for a few minutes, depending on who wrote on my Wall and what photos were posted of me. Then I remember that these feelings are skewed and illogical. I realize that I am who I am independent of my Facebook profile, and since I'm happy with who I am, Facebook shouldn't be able to affect that self-esteem. But for many people it definitely does. For instance, In "Why Youth <3..." Boyd quotes Olivia, 17, saying, " just so sick of the drama and i just can't take it anymore compared to all the love its supposed to make us feel" (14).

The thing about Facebook is that it allows other people to "tag" photos of you without your discretion. You can sign online to Facebook on Monday and find out that some really stupid photos of you or photos that you don't think actually portray your identity accurately have been up on your profile all weekend for everyone to see. Pictures are often portrayed out-of-context. They may convey a negative message to some viewers, while they look like normal/great/cool pictures to a person who was actually on-location at the time the picture was taken. The question is: "To what extent do Facebook participants interpret Facebook profiles and photos contextually?...To what extent do they receive false impressions?...To what extent does this all matter?"

1 comment:

Anita Vohra said...

The idea of social hierarchies withi online communities is utterly amazing. It is so fascinating to think that The Internet has provided such an immense outlet of options to its users. Internet users can be involved in groups, chatrooms, forums, and even paid memberships. With commuities such as Friendster, MySpace, and Facebook, you can even choose your "Top Friends". I can't even tell you how many times I have actually added (and then deleted) the "Top Friends" application on Facebook. To tell you the truth, I feel like online communities have started more social drama between friends than does face-to-face communication. Personally, I feel that this is because it is easier to type without thinking than it is to speak without thinking. When you are behind a computer screen, you tend to feel guarded and shielded, consequently embodying you with a power to do and say anything you want. This barrier is humbled during face-to-face communication. The Internet's communities definitely can bring friends closer together, but they can also destroy relationships.