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"Clicking to like," and "friending" are part of common vernacular, due to Facebook. The social media Website has unmistakably transformed the way people use the Internet. Facebook members read about daily current events in their "news feed" rather than from visiting the Websites of The New York Times. Users read articles posted by friends, who re-posted them from other friends. Facebook has even made regular email seem almost obsolete when it comes to socializing. Although it has not gone by the way of snail mail, traditional email is now much less important compared with Facebook messaging. Communication and the development of friendships take place within the virtual playground of Facebook. Facebook has in fact changed the ways people view the state and practice of friendship. A "friend" is not necessarily someone who we see in real life anymore; it is a person who "likes" our posts and photos on Facebook. Some Facebook friends are "real" friends, in the sense that the companions do still meet in real life. Many Facebook friends serve a different function, revealing that there are now new categories of human relationships. These new categories of relationship exist primarily because of social media. The new categories of relationship parallel the new stages of psychosocial identity development that Henig posits in "What is it about 20-Somethings?" Facebook has fundamentally and irreversibly changed the way people communicate, because it alters the traditional patterns of psychosocial development and identity construction.
Facebook has become an indispensible application for many people, to the point where almost a third of all users check their Facebook before getting out of bed ("Facebook Statistics, Stats and Facts for 2011"). Therefore, Facebook has altered the most basic ways people live, and the rudimentary aspects of personal lifestyle. Checking Facebook from under the covers is one emblem of the profound impact of social media on personal life and interpersonal relationships. Social media has also carved out new ways for young people to develop personal identities. Although Facebook is not without its own normative culture, many people can find a unique niche in the virtual world of social media, which does not exist in the brick-and-mortar universe. For example, Larry Gross notes that Facebook has created a "Queer Global Village," (129). The real world in San Francisco might offer a Queer Village, but most places and spaces around the world exhibit hostile types of homophobia that are detrimental to the social and psychological health of youth. For many, "the Internet is a godsend and untold thousands are using computer networks to declare their homosexuality, meet and seek support from other gay youths," (Gross 129).
It is easy for a person to manage their self-image and identity construction on Facebook. This does not mean that people become someone who they are not, but it does mean that Facebook encourages a sort of brand identity management; in the way a company might do for their key lines of products. Social media has changed the way people express themselves both online and in person. A Facebook page is like one's car, clothing, or interior design: an expression of identity, lifestyle, ethnicity, and sexual orientation. The social media Website is integral to the identity formation and social development of young generations, including what Henig calls the stage of "emerging adulthood." Emerging adulthood might be a stage of psychosocial development that has not yet been recognized. Henig likens early adulthood to adolescence, from a developmental psychology perspective. Just as the concept of adolescence is relatively new, the concept of emerging adulthood might one day be considered an integral and important stage of life.
The emerging adulthood stage of life is fostered by Facebook, but it also nurtures Facebook too. Facebook and the individual are co-creators. The individual creates the Facebook universe by maintaining their page, posting pictures and links liberally, and commenting on their friends' posts and pictures. Some users of Facebook are as narcissistic as they are in real life, posting frequent Instagram shots of themselves in mirrors getting ready for a party. Other users of Facebook express their altruistic sides with pleas to donate to their favorite charity. No matter how a person crafts his or her online identity, Facebook enables and encourage that identity formation. Identity construction is one of the hallmarks of social media. The user can link their blog to Facebook, or their Flickr page, inviting the world to peer into their creative pursuits and personal interests.
The ability to create and maintain a public profile means that Facebook users "market" themselves, just as a company markets its products. How many "likes" a post gets is like Facebook currency. Facebook is currency for most companies. Social media changes the nature of corporate communications, as well as interpersonal communications. Companies can use Facebook as an instant feedback mechanism that replaces the need for focus groups. Users communicate with companies in more direct ways than ever before, showing how the products they buy fit in with certain demographic markers. Marketers know that branding is linked with identity, which is why it makes sense that individual identity construction takes place within the social media environment. Individuals and companies are accomplishing the same goals with Facebook -- getting people to "like" them.
Facebook adds a dimension of control to identity construction, as the individual only lets others see as much or as little as desired. The individual is in control of his or her "brand." As Sherry Turkle points out in an interview with Meredith Melnick, new media also ensures that individual control the methods by which they communicate. Having control over identity is parallel with having control over interpersonal relationships. Facebook literally allows a user to "friend" and "unfriend" at will in ways that were not possible in the pre-social media universe. Facebook is a game-changer for many relationship dynamics. The way Turkle puts it, new media is detrimental to personal relationships because of the element of control. "Controlling relationships becomes a major theme in digital communication. And that's what sometimes makes us feel alone together…controlled relationships are not necessarily relationships in which you feel kinship," (Turkle, cited by Melnick).
For a 20-something or younger, this element of control is a boon or even something that is taken for granted. The intimacy that a person feels with an online friend evokes the same types of emotions and feelings as a friend who is seen on a daily basis. Facebook allows its users to be connected to their friends all the time and at will via the use of the application on mobile devices. Friendships and online connections also do not depend on time or space. Facebook fits into the mobile lifestyles that have arisen out of choice or necessity. As Henig points out in "What is it about 20-Somethings?" "One-third of people in their 20s move to a new residence every year." A highly mobile lifestyle makes Facebook a necessity for maintaining friendships and familial ties, too. The global marketplace has made it so that individuals might be called upon to work in remote offices in locations around the world. Without Facebook, their ties with friends and families could wither.
Facebook presents a rather conflicted portrait of friendship and social development in the new media landscape. As Turkle points out, Facebook is not all fun and games for relationships, which can struggle due to the way technology precludes face-to-face, being-here-now intimacy. Larry Gross mainly points out how the Queer Global Village can be a happy online family for young people. The author also admits, though, "despite the dramatic increase in the public visibility of gay people in nearly all domains of our public culture, most young lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people still find themselves isolated and vulnerable," (Gross 129). Facebook is not immune from in-grouing and out-grouping; the creation of restricted zones of socializing based on affiliation with lifestyle, gender, and other cues. The social media platform literally includes "Groups" which one must have an invitation to join. As a person sets boundaries of who can and cannot be "friended," the group administrator determines who is eligible for participation in the group forum. The administrator serves as a social barrier, preventing the organic, democratic love-in that Facebook represents in other dimensions such as via the spread of memes from the Dalai Lama. Friends can also be classified and organized into groupings. Friendship groupings happened before Facebook, but not to such an overt and organized degree.
There are, however, positive elements of the Facebook friending process. For one, Facebook discourages clique formation that occurs organically due to social in-grouping and out-grouping among peers. Clique formation among peers is less likely because Facebook offers way for people to learn about not just their closest friends as well as acquaintances. Facebook makes it possible to interact with people that one might otherwise ignore in school or work, because the social media site reveals points of convergence in two people. For example, people might think they have nothing in common with someone…[continue]
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