Friday, September 21, 2007

When a professor joined Facebook

Ian Bogost is a professor at Georgia Tech University and is a videogame researcher as well, recently joined Facebook to see how it worked and how he could use it. After spending a couple of months using the site, Ian has made some very important observations on the nature and utility of social networking sites and I have tried here to summarize and comment on his important findings:

1. The concept of friends on social networking sites such as Facebook is much, much different from that in real life.

It is not as algorithmic and rule-based in reality.

Ian says,
As a professor, I found it interesting that Facebook's detail options give me almost innumerable ways to describe the nature and satisfaction of sexual relationships, but no way to declare that a "friend" had been a student, research assistant, TA, or advisee.

Inferring that most social networking sites promote “incomplete friendships”, Ian goes on to invoke Aristotle, whose words used to be gospel in the western cultures.

Aristotle said there were 3 kinds of friendship:
A: Friendship grounded in virtue,
B: Friendship grounded in utility, and
C: Friendship grounded in pleasure.

Ian uses this distinction to classify social networks:
- LinkedIn is for people who are into Business and Politics and use relationships as utilities.
-Most social networking sites are of the third and last type, involving enjoyment, sex and distraction.

Aristotle called these two types “incomplete friendships”.

We have yet to see a mass scale social network which is based on virtue.

2. Disjointed sense of time for older people
If you are an older person who just found a high school chum, the social networking site’s software will say "A made B a friend 30 minutes ago" – in this case, the site has mangled your whole concept of time and relationships.

Maybe Facebook and its kind are tailor-made for a select kind of people.

Ian says,
I can imagine how Facebook would be very easy to use if you started in high school or as an undergraduate.

...and they keep updating the site with events in your life.

However, for those of us who already have lived a life, cramming all that into the confines of a social networking site’s walls is kind of degrading, like giving in to the machines.

3. The river of Mundane, banality…
It is worthwhile to follow the writings of your favorite author and be updated through feeds but to know that your new found friend just paid a parking ticket, added a new application, and removed an application is weary. It is not voyeurism; it is something like the inanity of Twitter.

The deluge of Facebook applications promises to fill up your feeds with endless series of “added ____application; removed _____application)

Ian writes,
…most of the time when I look at my feed, I see very little insight into the lives of my "friends." Instead, I see their lives siphoned through the commercial sieve of Facebook.

While we are at it, I would like to know if my high school friend recommended me for the new job I was angling for.

Can the social networking site update me on this?

4. To share or not to share
Some people’s idea of sharing is ‘on a need to know basis’ and I subscribe to this school of thought.

Young people share all sorts of data on social networking sites and they ought to – they got nothing to lose (at least for the moment), the world is their oyster (not for ever) and they are blessed with the endorphin-promising urge to try out new things.

But it is different in case of adults who have jobs and who are not Scoble or Calacanis.

Acknowledging that social networking sites might have some pedagogical merits, Ian writes about the dilemma faced by many older people (or, people in decision making position) entering a realm that was primarily meant for Younger people ,

...should I seek out and add all my students? Will I appear collegial? Solicitous? Perverted? If I add just the "best" ones or those with whom I had more deliberate academic content, will this be viewed as favoritism? By whom? On the flipside, does a student have any expectations of me if we are Facebook friends? Should they?

On the work side, Ian asks,

Do I want my students to see the details of my professional relationships with faculty from other universities? Or colleagues in the corporate world?

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