05. A03.

Cyber Cultures

How Does Facebook Shape the Way We Think and Communicate?

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As I sit here in the library preparing to write, I am distracted by the all too familiar blue and white screen that has disturbingly changed my social life since 2007.

As I sit here in the library preparing to write, I am distracted by the all too familiar blue and white screen that has disturbingly changed my social life since 2007
The way my demographic has thought and communicated has altered considerably since these social media platforms arrived in the late 00s. These affects are a widely discussed and debated subject; I intend to explore this.

It is clear as we live in 2014, that the arrival of the internet has had a great impact on us as a society. This article will explore how this is evident in terms of social media, in particular; Facebook (perhaps the most popular social networking platform at the moment) focusing on how it has greatly affected the way in which we communicate. At first what is immediately obvious is that the services provided by Facebook are not entirely new; in a way, the internet has just provided more assessable versions of what we already have – humans have always socialised, communicated and networked but now they can do it all without leaving their front rooms, creating their own cyber-cultures that were not previously evident. For some, it is terrifying how much of an impact Facebook has had on our day to day lives. It has become a major part of how we communicate and it raises some interesting questions – is this detrimental to our relationships, or to society as a whole? Is our information safe? Do these changes put an even greater divide between those able to access the internet and those who cannot? Is it only a particular demographic that has been affected by social networking; Generation Y, the ‘Millennials’? Does the free and instantaneous availability of information change the way we think? Will the way we perceive the human mind be affected? What is really interesting is how the internet has become a threat to older media platforms of communication (print media, the postal service, telephones, fax machine, and other forms of mass media.) Is this just a sign of an evolving society or has the internet affected us on an entirely new level?

In Susan Maushart’s book, The Winter of Our Disconnect, she persuades her family to unplug from the internet for a month. In chapter 6 she discusses the significance of having her family disconnect from Facebook. Maushart makes an interesting point concerning Facebook’s role in the development of technology;

“A pencil is an extension of a finger writing in the sand. But our electronic media are extensions of our brains.” (Maushart,2011)

Media theorists have hypothesized for years that most new media are just new extensions of an older form of communication (The telephone came after the telegraph, a pencil is an extension of a finger writing in the sand). Maushart points out that what is scary and different about electronic media (particularly the internet) is that they are an extension of our brains. Facebook is a personal version of this: an extension of our own psyche and identity.

One thing that has been said about the development of the internet, is that as this huge rapid sum of information becomes more and more available to us, the more the way we think and communicate will change; the information paradox. Theorists disagree as to whether this is a positive or negative effect, worrying that our intelligence will be affected for better or for worse.

“The information paradox- that the more data we have, the stupider we become- has a social corollary, too: that the more frantically we connect, one to another, the more disconnected our relationships become.” (Maushart, 2011)

Maushart argues that the more information we have the more stupid we will become. In relation to Facebook, she believes that this will lead to a social corollary; a disturbing notion is that the more we are able to connect with each other, the more disconnected we become. She believes our relationships and connections will suffer the more we use social networking sites to communicate, such as Facebook. Furthermore, she backs up this point with scientific argument about the detrimental effects of online chatting;

“Online chatting, on the other hand, has been linked to symptoms of loneliness, confusion, anxiety, depression, fatigue, and addiction.” (Maushart, 2011)

Maushart rightfully argues that this form of communication (common on Facebook), from behind a screen is extremely unhealthy, especially for our mental state; this form of communication is linked to mental illnesses such as anxiety, depression and addiction. It has been discussed at length that Facebook addiction is an established and diagnosable affliction. These findings are disturbing, considering the amount of people that use Facebook. Maushart backs this argument up further with the notion that although the internet has been designed and shaped for our own convenience, how the purpose of Facebook enables us to socially network quicker and easier than ever before, it has brought with it a whole host of new issues.

“The devices meant to simplify our lives merely create new and improved complexities.” (Maushart, 2011)

Facebook and other forms of social media have provided many new ways for conflict to occur. Complexities such as lack of privacy, online bullying, online stalking, people being tracked by potential employers, and public scandal are all issues; these things were not a concern ten years ago. Finally, Maushart distinguishes Facebook’s ability to distract us from what actually matters;

Maybe it was the lack of stimulation that made you so productive and sort of… determined.

Maushart, 2011

With Facebook’s instant access on our computers and our phones, it is easy for it to become a huge distraction for us and damage our productivity. Maushart noticed this most in her children; it seems younger members of society are most affected by social networking and Facebook. It is clear from these quotes that Maushart disagrees with Facebook and modern technology – is it possible that Facebook can be a positive interaction for our society? An Introduction to Cyber Cultures was written in 2001, before Facebook existed. However, at that point in time the internet had started to become a well-established medium, resulting in the theory of cyber-cultures. The following extract, taken from Kollock and Smith in 1999 is an early definition of what cyber-cultures and communities on the internet are;

‘Cyberspace is already the home of thousands of groups of people who meet to share information, discuss mutual interests, play games, and carry out business. Some of these groups are both large and well-developed, but critics argue that these groups do not constitute real communities. Something is missing, they argue, that makes these online communities pale substitutes for more traditional face-to-face communities. Others respond that not only are online communities real communities, but also that they have the potential to support face-to-face communities and help hold local communities together. (Kollock and Smith1999: 16)’ (Bell, 2001, pg 98)

Facebook and other forms of social media have provided many new ways for conflict to occur. Complexities such as lack of privacy, online bullying, online stalking, people being tracked by potential employers, and public scandal are all issues; these things were not a concern ten years ago.

It is clear from this definition that what constitutes as a cyber-culture or cyber-community is still the same today, as Facebook accurately fits this description. For example; the list of purposes for online communities are all things people use Facebook for (to play games, argue). However, the book states that critics doubted if these communities were real or not. Could they link to face-to-face ‘real’ communities, or is something missing? Perhaps back in the early 00s when these communities were new, it seemed preposterous that an online community could ever be considered a real, legitimate community. But in present day, as people spend more and more time on the internet participating in these communities, the reality of it hits home. The concept of an online community not being considered a real community seems almost ridiculous now. Later in An Introduction to Cyber-cultures, a quote is used to strengthen this notion;

In cyberspace, we chat and argue, engage in intellectual intercourse, perform acts of commerce, exchange knowledge. Share emotional support, make plans, brain storm, gossip, feud, fall in love, find friends and lose them, play games and meta-games, flirt, create a little high art and a lot of idle talk. We do everything people do when they get together, but we do it with words on computer screens, leaving our bodies behind. (Rheingold 1999: 414) (Bell, 2001, pg 98)

Rheingold argues that if all aspects of normal, human, face-to-face communication are possible through computer screens or ‘in cyberspace’ then how can it not be seen as a true reflection of human communication? The only difference is that our bodies are absent. The same is true for Facebook, where users are able to privately message each other, publically message each other, play games together, ‘like’ each other’s posts… ‘flirt, create a little high art and a lot of idle talk’. If this is true then surely the arrival of Facebook has changed the way we view online communities? Ten years ago the idea of online communication being considered a real and serious construct seemed silly, however now it is just accepted as fact.

Now it is clear that Facebook does indeed change the way we think and communicate. Facebook brought online communities, chatting and messaging to mainstream audiences and made social networking extremely popular, is it then safe to assume that the arrival of the internet and success of social networking websites such as Facebook has indeed shaped and molded the way we communicate? It is clear a new way of communicating has been provided by Facebook, and in due time our attitudes about this way of communication have changed, but surely to be able to say Facebook has changed the way we communicate it has to be solely responsible for this new communication. Facebook would have to completely replace old constructs and methods of communication; the worrying thought is the inevitability of that actually happening becoming more and more viable. This is further reiterated in the book

‘What we have is a preservation through simulation of old forms of solidarity and community. In the end, not an alternative society, but an alternative to society’ (Bell, 2001, pg 105)

Bell argues that online communities and cyber cultures will not replace older forms of solidarity and community; he argues that these online communities become an alternative to society. This is where attitudes to the use of Facebook differ greatly. For most, Facebook is used as an extension of social lives, a way to keep up to date with friends and family. However, for a small minority, this is not the case – Facebook becomes their social life and an alternative to society. Luckily, cases like this are rare – it is less Facebook which instigates this issue. It is more prevalent in online communities such as Second Life or World of Warcraft. In this case it is clear that although Facebook has the potential to become an alternative to society and therefore completely replace traditional forms of communities, it instead provides an extension to older forms of communication and will probably become outdated itself in years to come.

In the Net Delusion, it is discussed how the internet has affected society in terms of socio-political context. The book was written in 2011 and therefore has much more up-to-date and relevant arguments in terms of Facebook. In one chapter, the concept of censorship is discussed;

if authoritarian governments master the art of aggregating the most popular links that their opponents share on Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites, they can create a very elegant, sophisticated and, most disturbingly, accurate solution for their censorship needs’

Morosov, 2011, pg 100

It is clear that in only ten years, attitudes towards online communities and social networking have changed incredibly, instead of discussing the significance of their existence, we are instead discussing how they are used within society. Here it is explored about how the government can use such social media platforms to their advantage. Being able to use complex networking systems that exist in the internet, it is almost easier for content to be censored, easier for us to be watched, controlled. Facebook is a large network of data and huge amounts of information and advertising can be sold making a terrifying business. Advertising (for the first time ever) can target specific individuals; psychographic advertising means websites like Facebook can target you, judging from what you have written on your profile and what pages you have ‘liked’ instead of relying on the old fashion demographics system used for mass media.

In the article; Facebook as a catalyst, Polish users of Facebook were been examined, they theorized that some of the most significant forms of cultural participation are available on Facebook;

‘Andrzej Tyszka believed that beneficial cultural participation does not entail making maximum use of all cultural opportunities, but using them in an appropriate way, according to individual needs, perceptive abilities and lifestyle. Benefits of this type of participation include:

— broadening and organizing acquired knowledge thus increasing awareness of the

experienced world and consequently—understanding one’s own situation

— access to existential values which make life attractive and facilitate self-fulfillment,

self-celebration, and self-expression

— establishing one’s social standing by reference to the symbolic meaning of “cultural objects” and the prestigious role of producers of cultural behaviors (Tyszka 1971). We believe it is worth to study whether Facebook is a positive mediator in the cultural life of a specific local community helping to meet its cultural needs’ (Buchner, 2012)

What is interesting is that this essay is quoting Tyszka and his list of ‘cultural participation’ almost reads off as the reasons behind why people use Facebook. People use Facebook to keep up with their peers and make sure they receive all information instantaneously; at the same time as everybody else, Facebook enables users to create a reference point in which they can access the appropriate attitudes and values of their peers. Assuming this is accurate, Facebook is a positive mediator in cultural life. Facebook therefore reflects all our social needs. The article concludes that in reference to Marshall Mcluhan’s The Medium is the Message, Facebook’s relationship to the internet is one that is growing ever stronger;

Facebook is no longer a cyber-culture; it is a well-integrated part of Western Society.

‘This relationship between the WWW and Facebook reveals the distinct role of content “poured” into the medium, allowing a new reading of McLuhan’s famous thesis: “medium is the message” (McLuhan 2003). Now, in recipient’s mind, medium becomes the transmitted content and it is this content that becomes crucial (neither the particular mechanism, i.e. the Internet, nor a specific service defined through its specific application). Medium is the message in the sense that it disappears from view, becomes dissolved in the message and turns into a lens, through which we decipher meanings. Perhaps the relative permanence of Facebook results from this peculiar perspective which connects it with the Internet. More and more people become familiar with the Internet and move about it freely. As a result, these two steps—connecting with the Internet and connecting with Facebook—become an unnoticed step taken several, or several dozen times per day.’ (Buchner, 2012)

This means that Facebook is no longer the important content, it is just a tool we use to decipher the content which is important, we can take from this, that Facebook has in fact changed society, as we now deem it’s use as a normal part of everyday life. Facebook is no longer a cyber-culture; it is a well-integrated part of Western Society.
This article will conclude with reference to Raymond Kurzweil’s predictions of technology, although not all of his predictions are correct; some of them are startlingly accurate such as those he predicted by 2009.

2009:Virtually all communication is digital and encrypted

Almost all our communication would be digital, this is almost true; most of our communication takes place via the internet, sms and is recorded. This prediction was correct, so in conclusion it is clear that the way developed western society communicates certainly has been shaped and molded by Facebook indefinitely, although it is still debatable as to if this is a positive thing or not. What is disturbing is what Kurtweil predicts for us in the next few decades, Facebook may have changed how we communicate for now, but what will new technologies bring to how we communicate? Kurzweil predicts that soon society will have ‘simulated partners’ with artificial personalities. With episodes from Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror and Spike Jonze’s film Her depicting these themes, it become confirmed that this is a genuine fear. Facebook may have changed the format in which we create communities, but will new technology have us forming relationships with robots?

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