4 weeks, 5 social network sites, 6 assignments.

Today, October 6th it’s been exactly one month since I first started this course. As I studied different types, and different ways of using social media sites for the past four weeks, it is time for an evaluation on my own social media use.

‘Welcome to Facebookaholics anonymous’

As I mentioned in my first assignment, of all social network sites, I mostly use Facebook. Even after a month of getting into different social media, and finding about all the scariness around the (un)privacy, I still consider myself a ‘Facebook addict’. Addict, that sounds serious. Well, I am sure if I have to I could do without Facebook. I guess. Could I? Maybe I should do a little test: Let’s deactivate my Facebook for one week. Easy as that. Right? Before I’ll evaluate my ‘Facebook-break’ I’ll tell you something more about my previous Facebook use.

When I wake up in the morning, the first thing I do is turn of my alarm and open my laptop, which is in, or next to, my bed (I guess this is where it already starts going wrong). Then I check my Facebook, before I even look at nu.nl to see what the (inter)national news is or make my breakfast, to read what my friends are up to and if I have some notifications. Admitted: If I look on Facebook and I don’t have any notifications I secretly think: ‘oh.. no one thought of me?’. Kind of scary how a social network could possibly make you feel sad and lonely. Since almost half of my (>1200) friends are Australian, even t (Dutch) night-time a lot of things happen on Facebook. Of course 1200 is an insane amount of ‘friends’, but I use Facebook a lot to keep in contact with the people whom I met during traveling, either because we had a great connection and I’d like to stay in contact or because they might come in handy later in life (maybe stay at their place someday). In the last two years I traveled more than 15 months so you can imagine I met a lot of people. Since I spent most of my time (12 months) in Australia most of my foreign friends are from there.

During the day I check Facebook at least once or twice a day to see what is happening in my Dutch friends’ lives. Or I post a status update about something funny that happened that day or will lead to a discussion. When I have to wait for people or when I am  bored, I am also very prone to check my Facebook quickly and entertain myself with other people’s ‘life’s’. Since I follow this class I realized I am very aware of who my audience is and what will interested my audience (Marwick & Boyd, 2010). If I assume no one will ‘like’ it or reply to it, I don’t post it. I also check who has a birthday and if a friend has a sad status I will reply so they know ‘I think about them’. Since I don’t have a very fancy mobile phone plan, I get over my call limit easily, so I often use Facebook chat or posts instead of text messaging, since I know most of my friends have a fancy phone and will read what I post straight away. When I find a link on the internet that might be interesting for a friend or my mum, I always post it on their wall, as it is less effort than sending an email. At last, before I go to bed, I always check one more time what my friends are up to.

One week away from ‘online society’

As you can conclude from what’s been written above, I use Facebook a lot. To be honest I can’t even imagine a day without Facebook anymore. Time to put this to the test: One week without Facebook. It seems so do-able. Within 2 hours after ‘disabling’ my Facebook my friend replied that she couldn’t hang out with me later that night because she was gonna see my brother. My brother?! My first thought was: ‘ohhh my, I can make a joke about this on Facebook: “The awkward moment when you ask a friend to have a drink and she says: No I’m already seeing your brother tonight.” and make her feel guilty in a funny way’. Then I realized: ‘ahh shit, I don’t have Facebook anymore.’

When I got home I had dinner with my friends and they were in shock that I turned my Facebook of. “But how are we gonna contact you now, I have a pre-paid phone?!”. Another friend send me a text: ‘Hey Bibi what happened to your Facebook, are you ok? Wanna meet friday?’ and yet another friend called me to ask what happened to my Facebook and if I was ok and wanted to have a drink tonight. The last bits are pretty interesting as it mad me realize that on Facebook I make a lot of ‘vague’ appointments: sometime soon, somewhere next week etc., whereas via a phone call or text messaging I make more concrete appointments: “Lets meet in 20 minutes” or “Lets have dinner next friday.” But back to my ‘Facebook-break’. I managed to survive the first day without Facebook, even though I felt very restless not checking my Facebook before going to sleep, probably because it’s part of my ‘before bed ritual’. The next morning I had the same restless feeling. I felt like I still had to do something, but I could not do it, which again made me feel restless. Later that day I had to feed the cat of my friend who is on holiday, but he just moved and I realized he send me his new address on Facebook …thus within 24 hours after my attempt to not use Facebook for a week, I failed. As soon as I reactivated my Facebook I couldn’t help myself but reading other people’s posts and checking what my friends were up to. I also realized it is the only way to keep in touch with some of my overseas friends, as Skyping all of them would be logistically impossible. I can therefore say that I don’t wish Facebook doesn’t exist. Even though I have to admit it is a highly addictive medium, it is the simplest way to keep in contact with friend and it also has entertaining and sometimes informative value.

There is more than just Facebook…

The other social network sites I used for this class were Twitter, Delicious en Google+. I can see a lot of potential in Google+ , especially now that everyone is complaining about Facebook’s new lay out and now that you don’t need an invite to join anymore, but I have hardly used it in the past month as still none of my friends used Google+ actively. After the discussions in class I can see the value of the circles, but because I already spend (too) much time on Facebook, I don’t want to add another social network site. The same goes for Twitter. I have had Twitter account for over a year now, but I still hardly use it. Simple because most of my friends use Facebook. I found it interesting to follow politicians on Twitter, but I have to admit that after finishing the assignment I can not really be bothered to check Twitter every day anymore. So far I haven’t really used Delicious much either. I had never heard of it before and I still think the name sounds more like a dating website, but I can see the beneficial part for people who do research or students who want to order and share their literature. I think it can be a very helpful network for when I start writing my thesis later tis year. It is more because other than this class, I mainly had to follow classes about statistics which did not really require a lot of literature research. Probably if you ask me later I can tell you more about my experiences with Delicious. Another social network I used, of which I never really realized it is  actually a social network, is dokter.nl. After reading Take Two Aspirin And Tweet Me In the Morning (Hawn, 2009) I realized that I use this form of social network sites quite a lot. Especially since I had surgery, when I’m a bit worried because for example my knee got swollen again, instead of calling the doctor, I google what it can be. Most of the time i can find the answer on the internet via social network sites like dokter.nl. I don’t think it will ever replace seeing a doctor in real life a 100%, but it sure helps to give a bit of mind peace or help in the decission to go see a(n expensive) doctor or not.

Social Media, the verdict

What has changed concerning my social network site use after taking part in this class? When I look at my Facebook use, I still use this site a couple of times a day, mainly to see what my friends are up too and keep in contact with them. I did become more aware of how I play with my expected audience. Also, I always thought I was pretty ‘privacy’ aware, not using my real name on Facebook and setting all the possible privacy settings on ‘friends only’. Still Debatin and Lovejoy’s (2009) research did made me even more aware of how sensitive Social Network sites are when it comes to privacy. Especially when I read about how The Police can use Facebook, I felt Facebook can seriously violate your privacy:Additional concerns have been raised about links between Facebook and its use by government agencies such as the police or the Central Intelligence Agency. In a rather benign example, a police officer resorted to searching Facebook after witnessing a case of public urination outside a fraternity house at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the only other witness on the scene claimed not to know the lawbreaker. Once on Facebook, the officer searched the man’s friend list and the lawbreaker he was looking for. The first man received a $145 ticket for public urination; the other received a $195 ticket for obstructing justice (Dawson, 2007). Additionally, the Patriot Act allows state agencies to bypass privacy settings on Facebook in order to look up potential employees (NACE Spotlight Online, 2006).” (p.850, Debatin & Lovejoy, 2009) I was never aware that Facebook could have such a big impact on your privacy. The quote above made me realize I really underestimated the power of Facebook.

From a whole other perspective,after finishing my politician and brand assignment, I got aware of the power of Social Media when it comes to advertising. Either for a brand, a product or even a politician: social media can be seen as a very interesting way of (free) promotion and advertising. My dad just started a new company and I suggested he should really promote his product via Facebook. Since I follow this class, he offered me to start a Facebook page to promote his new product and keep the page up to date. Thus this class actually got me some sort of job.

I also never realized that apart from being a great medium to keep in contact with friends, or entertainment, social network sites can be handy for studying with sites like Delicious. Neither did I ever think of the potential for the use social network sites for formal learning. I think in this time where more and more people are ‘digital natives’ (p. 204, Bull, 2008) and social networks will play an ever growing role in our society, this could have a lot of potential in succeeding.

At last, after taking part in this class, I realize where I wanna focus on for my masters degree or maybe (if there is a possibility) for my bachelor thesis, as I really loved this subject. I think social media is a highly interesting, often underestimated platform, that will only increase in power and size in the future and which lends itself for highly interesting social research.

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