May 8 , 2006
Robyn Mohr, a rising junior co-majoring in journalism and business, was the spring 2006 intern for Emory Report.
In today’s world, you can order dinner off the Internet and have it delivered to your door. You can design your dream car and buy it. You can keep in touch with family in foreign countries and watch them as they speak to you.
And you can meet new friends. Lots of them. At any time of day or night, from virtually anywhere in the world.
With such a variety of online communities, you can do your socializing without ever leaving your laptop or changing out of your pajamas. Sites such as Xanga, LiveJournal, MySpace and Facebook allow members to chat with whoever, whenever, wherever (as long as it’s wired or WiFi’ed). The site will even map out a digital network of all your online buddies. All you need is an email address—and, perhaps, a thoughtfully designed profile to attract potential “friends.”
Online communities are not just for technology savvy twentysomethings anymore. Your 9-year-old neighbor is probably a member of Xanga. Your high school math teacher could be on LiveJournal. Your grandparents could be logged onto MySpace. And there are always us college kids who are members of Facebook.
To those who still prefer meeting new people face-to-face, the allure of online communities may not seem like such a great idea. Well, I say: Head over to your computer. New friends are a keyword search and a mouse click away. Who even shakes hands nowadays? Grab your ergonomic desk chair; you may want to sit down for this lesson.
MySpace, thought to be the original and most successful online community, boasts nearly 75 million members and offers endless opportunities to meet new friends. It even has a section on each member’s page titled “Who I’d Like to Meet.” Its members range from elementary schoolers to established business professionals.
Then there’s the slightly more exclusive Facebook.com, one of the most popular sites with college students and the seventh-most visited website in the country (so it says). All you need to log on is an “.edu” in your e-mail address (this site is for academia only). But don’t let that fool you into thinking this is some cozy club discussing Proust; Facebook currently has 7.3 million members from 2,100 colleges across the country and recently added about 22,000 high schools to its list of eligible domains.
Members log on to create Facebook profiles, in which they can include any information under the sun: favorite color, favorite food, favorite movie, favorite people, favorite way to spend a Friday night—you get the point. Members may also choose to include more personal information such as their birth date, hometown (or even their last names, for the bold). The profile page also shows who that person is friends with at his or her school, as well as where other friends go to school.
Then there is the coveted “wall,” perhaps one of Facebook’s most popular features. Here, friends can post messages and the postee’s picture will appear on the left hand corner of their post. All of these features can only be seen if either the viewer goes to the same university/high school, or if the viewer is lucky enough to be listed as a “friend” of that poster or profile owner.
The issue of friendships on Facebook is somewhat controversial. Some people are “compulsive frienders” and will request to be friends with almost anyone. They may request friendships from people they’re close with, people they’ve met once, people they’ve never met, or people who don’t even know they exist. In order to be added as a friend, the friendship must be confirmed by the person being “friended”—another issue entirely. Maybe they’re trying to acquire a million Facebook friends. Or maybe they’re actually that friendly. Who knows?
I was actually friended once by a guy who said he wanted to be “the first person to be friends with everyone on Facebook.” I chose not to accept his friendship, since I didn’t even know who he was. In fact, most people I know refuse to accept friendships from compulsive frienders such as the aforementioned Mr. Popular. Others will accept friendships from anyone who asks.
But does it really matter how many friends you have in an online community? It seems a bit shallow. I blame the vast number of high school students who were recently bestowed with the privilege of joining Facebook.
When Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg first created Facebook in 2004, it was intended solely for Harvard students. Within weeks, the site had become immensely popular, and soon Facebook invites were extended to all schools within the Ivy League. Shortly thereafter, more colleges and universities were added daily, and then the high school kids started begging to be added.
Now, Facebook has become overrun by these new members, and the site itself looks more and more like a virtual high school. The popular kids are all members of exclusive invite-only “groups” (another wonderful Facebook feature). Everyone seems to be on a quest for the most friends at a wide variety of schools so that they can be “popular” online. I was looking at a friend’s wall the other day and realized that, within three months of joining Facebook (she’s still in high school), she had about 400 posts on her wall. I have been on the site for nearly two years and have only accumulated 70 posts, a number with which I was quite pleased until I saw I was being out-walled by a 12th grader.
Nevertheless, I must admit: I do tend to get excited when I see a Facebook “friend request” e-mail in my inbox. I can’t help it. You’re only as popular offline as you are online. Or, is it the other way around?
But being popular online has its price. Once you’re friends with the world, the world can see everything you post, and it’s not just “real” friends who are logged on. Nowadays, criminals, potential employers, the police and even (cover your ears, President Wagner) college and high school administrators are looking on Facebook for more than just your picture. Criminals use the information students post to stalk and harass them; as reported recently in The Emory Wheel, an Emory College sophomore was reportedly called several times by a fellow student who got her phone number off Facebook, and she has since filed for a restraining order.
Employers are asking current employees with Facebook accounts to look up job candidates and are none too pleased when they see “girls, girls, girls,” or “smoking and drinking” listed as favorite hobbies. School administrators have even tried to take action against minors seen drinking in online photo albums, and a college student in Arkansas was expelled because his school’s administrators found out from Facebook that he was gay. At some schools, campus police are cracking down on parties they see advertised on the site.
However you feel about these incidents, it’s clear that online communities like Facebook have forever changed the way we meet and interact with one another. While I still prefer eating my dinner in a restaurant and cannot yet afford to buy my dream car, I am thankful the Internet is able to bring people together from all walks of life.
Plus, it doesn’t hurt that I can converse with my friends while in my pajamas. If I were to go into the real world, I guess I’d have to change—my outfit, at least.