Sunday, 16 March 2014

"Every Day I'm Facebooking"

How does Facebook influence our Erasmus-experience?


From the very start of my Erasmus semester I used Facebook a lot more than I usually do. My main occupation was attending activities organized by the Erasmus Student Network (ESN). They would announce all activities on their profile, and I would be invited automatically as I was a 'friend' of the them. I don't even know how to receive this information through other media or - unthinkable! - in personal contact! And maybe that is one reason why I haven't met anyone who doesn't use Facebook - because most people I've met are going to the ESN activities. On the other hand I started organizing my own excursions and parties with new friends on this platform, because it is so easy. 


When I started out on my Erasmus-semester, I expected to be connecting with people on Facebook to keep contacts because I experienced this when I was abroad before. I would love to say that I still keep in touch with people from various countries on Facebook, but truth is: I don't. Because I don't consider reading someone's status updates as keeping in touch or cultivating a friendship. Many publications deal with the question of intimacy in social online networks for a good reason.

So what does it mean to become 'friends' on Facebook? How come that I accept friend requests from people I barely remember but can connect to this Erasmus-crowd? Why are we so eager to connect online? 


A typical social network diagram.
Well, as I already said: it is easy. And it is definitely easier than waiting for the other person to finally get that Hungarian sim card. A fellow Erasmus student told me about one of the major advantages of 'facebooking' from his point of view: If you find one person on Facebook, you will find all the others; this network simply works! If you meet someone you don't have the chance of talking to a lot, you can still rely on finding him*her online. Chances are high he*she will be connected to other people that you already know. 

 

We are afraid to miss something.


My own theory is - stemming from personal experiences - that we are eager to connect online because we are afraid to miss something. We are new in town - we are afraid to miss chances to find new friends. We are new in a group - we are afraid to miss the chance of belonging to it. We hear of parties being planned - we are afraid to miss the chance of going there (and sharing pictures of the apartments crowded by a massive amount of international students with friends at home). We afraid to miss the chance to picture ourselves as Erasmus students for other people. We are afraid to miss the chance to make others (and ourselves?) believe we are having the best time ever. We are afraid to miss the chance to flirt. We are afraid to miss important information about paperwork, due dates and other bureaucratic obligations. I am not at all judging anyone or myself for being afraid. I would wonder though if you are not at all nervous about moving abroad.

Another thought of mine is that Facebook changes the way we live. I have heard of countless experiments to turn off the internet and/or facebook for a day, a week or a month. Let's not go into detail about the dangers of Facebook concerning addiction, privacy and mobbing. For myself it is true that I sometimes feel like all the online communication (be it on a social networking website or messaging tools on my smartphone) doesn't really get me closer to people. What is establishing intimacy for me is meeting people and sharing the real me with them - not only the funny, cheerful, politically interested, smart person I am presenting online, although of course this represents my personality, too. How real is this virtual reality?

As a last question to think about for you: What about the people who don't have a profile on Facebook? Will we even remember them when we go home?

I am very curious what you think about my theories - please comment! :)

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Good reading for you if you are interested in learning more on intimacy:
Lambert, Alexander (2013): Intimacy and Friendship on Facebook. Palgrave Macmillan.
In German; very interesting thoughts about the relation of virtual reality and reality.
Kneidinger, Bernadette (2010): Facebook und Co. Eine soziologische Analyse von Interaktionsformen in Online Social Networks. VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften.

Nice article about the effect of Facebook by three American high school students:
http://www.mlive.com/opinion/kalamazoo/index.ssf/2011/11/what_effect_has_facebook_had_o.html

Source of the picture: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/70/Social_Red.jpg

6 comments:

  1. Thank you, Anna, for just finding the perfect words for describing the ambivalence I feel which is connected to facebook!

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  2. Dear Anna,
    I like reading your blog as it gives me the possibility to see someone’s thoughts about the ERASMUS experience that someone else has. On the one hand, we are in a very similar situation – we come from the same country, we study the same subject and we live in the same city for our ERASMUS semester. But on the other hand it is surely a very different experience for you and for me, as we met different people, attended different parties and we are different individuals. So thanks for this blog :-)
    There are two things I want to comment.
    One is the question: Do we remember the people who don’t have Facebook? Well, for me personally it is not so important to think about this, as everybody who wants to create a Facebook profile can do it. There are so many people in this world, we can’t get friends everybody, and we surely ALWAYS do not enlarge the contact to very nice people that could have been great friends. And maybe people who don’t have Facebook already have enough other contacts, I don’t know. I believe they have their reasons. But of course, if we meet people without Facebook we shouldn’t take this as a reason not to stay in contact. If we like them we should find other ways to communicate with them. For me, Facebook is the easiest, so I use Facebook for everybody who has it. And I don’t feel guilty that maybe the people who don’t have Facebook will less probable get my friends. I mean, it is their choice – and I HAVE a sim card, an emailadress and I would also enjoy receiving letters on the postal way ;-)
    Then there was another thing I wanted to comment. It was very interesting for me to hear that you believe we go on Facebook because we are afraid to miss something. It seems very logical and surely makes sense, but I also –even more - realize another feeling: I go on Facebook because I am interested in what’s going on or what friends write me, and then I see somebody announcing an event for the evening/ next day/ whatever. Before, I was completely happy about my life, about my friends etc., but when I see the event and I know I cannot attend because I have other things to do – then I GET afraid that I miss something. Even if it’s absolutely natural you can’t attend everything. So, I mean, for me it is often also this other way round. It is a bit paradox because I could be happy that there are lots of possibilities what I can do, but no – It would be a nicer feeling if there is just one event I can attend. Maybe it’s because Facebook makes me REALIZE I miss possibilities to get to know new friends. I hope you get the point what’s the difference between my and your experience or thoughts.
    Have a nice Sunday!
    Dorothea

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    Replies
    1. Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts on this! I can really understand what you feel like - the more options there are and the more freedom I have to do what I like, the more pressure I feel in making the right choice and the more difficulty I experience in orientating. If you are interested in this, check out some books about these processes of modernization by Richard Sennett and Ulrich Beck, to start with ;-)

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  3. "We afraid to miss the chance to picture ourselves as Erasmus students for other people." I think we already had a conversation about this, and how showing what you did is more important than really doing it. Of course the use of facebook makes organizing events a lot easier, but everything that goes beyond the mere organization is just a way to show how cool we are. We are afraid of not being cool enough.

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    Replies
    1. "We are afraid of not being cool enough."

      You nailed it!!

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