Ethnographic Study of the Effects of Facebook.com on Interpersonal Relationships By: Daniel S. Holder University of Chicago Abstract: This paper attempts to assess the effects of Facebook.com, a social networking website, on interpersonal relationships via the unique “birthday” feature on the site. The study finds that this technology augments existing relationships and social obligations. The study also suggests the network becomes part of the user’s “trans-active memory.” Facebook.com was created in 2004 and has quickly become a nationwide college phenomenon. It is now among the 100-most-visited websites in the world. At its most basic level, the site redefines social networking by allowing users to create and maintain virtualpersistent profiles which contain personal, academic, and contact information.1 Via dynamic data linkage, users are capable of easily finding others who share characteristics similar to themselves- for example, if someone lists East of Eden in their “Favorite Books” section, then the site allows them to click on this and see all other members in the system who listed this book as a favorite as well. Thus, Facebook.com allows people to easily find others who share similar interests and occupy similar geographic locations in the case of a recently added feature which allows users to list their current location and forecasted vacation destinations for the summer. Also, since Facebook.com is centered around specific colleges, it allows for localized advertising and group messaging. It has recently come into media attention after receiving a $750 million dollar offer for the network and has even been called an “egocasting phenomenon” by one cultural critic.2 A nagging difficulty with the Facebook.com network, however, is the company’s unwillingness to describe its social-organization goals or even attempt to explain the results of social-networking through this system.
Users can view the profile of every person in their college, but must request friendship to view people out of their colleges. Moreover, users can only join “Groups” created by members within their college on the site. 2 See the following Business Week article by Steve Rosenbush: http://www.businessweek.com/technology/content/mar2006/tc20060327_215976.htm The latter comment was by critic Christine Rosen, a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington. A link to the article in which this appeared can be accessed here: http://chronicle.com/jobs/2006/01/2006012301c.htm
Daniel Holder, 16 April 2006 Page 2
In my study of four individuals,3 I have attempted to assess the effects of this technology on college students’ interpersonal relationships. I do this by comparing existing social networks with Facebook.com networks. Through numerical and qualitative responses as well as by more subjectively assessing nature in which these responses were given, it is possible to see that Facebook.com seems to reinforce existing relationships more than directly facilitating the creation of new ones. Essentially, it seems to provide an organized infrastructure for social networks that already exists and appears to have interesting effects on the user’s perception of their social networks. To control for the gender bias evidenced in other forms space-transcending social technologies (the higher female usage of the telephone and mobile phone), I chose to interview female respondents alone. To compare existing social networks with the Facebook.com network, I asked each of the interviewers to list their number of “friends”- a term I broadly defined to be someone whom the respondent would recognize by name, know a fact about, and would approach and greet if met unexpectedly. In each case, the number of friends in existing networks was greater than those in Facebook.com, a fact probably due to the college and high-school only population of the network. Only Subject 2 seemed to have a “close” number...