The Legacy of Social Networking

Posted on July 28, 2010 by 3 Comments

My favorite teacher in high school was my sophomore history teacher, Marvin Reed. History for me has always been akin to storytelling, and that was exactly how Mr. Reed taught. He sat there in his chair in the middle of the classroom and, without notes or an overhead projector, dove into detailed lectures about the wars of Europe, the rise and fall of the Ottoman Empire, and the crazy royal families. Yet, the most important thing I learned from Mr. Reed had nothing to do with history.Letters as a Legacy

In his classroom, Mr. Reed had various sorts of historical artifacts. He collected several of them when he was living in Europe in the 1960s — others had been given to him. These pieces included both the Berlin Wall and — thanks to my Japanese teacher’s gutsy defiance of Chinese law — the Great Wall of China. But the most interesting artifact in the classroom had little to do with history and everything to do with legacy. It was a giant ball made completely of plastic grocery bags in the middle of his classroom.

“The ball,” as Mr. Reed referred to it, had grown over the years from the size of a basketball to twice the size of your average yoga ball. What does a giant ball of plastic grocery bags have to do with legacy? Mr. Reed’s idea was that long after our generation had passed, archaeologists of the next generation — or, by chance, if aliens came to Earth — would find this huge ball and know that intelligent life once existed. The ball would be something left behind long after we were gone. The ball is the most vivid exemplification I have of both future and past all in one. History is created by the stories and artifacts we leave behind, so that they may, in turn, continue to tell our story long after we are dead.

For me, this begs the question of how my generation, Generation Y, will be remembered?

We remember our grandparents or great grandparents by finding old love letters or journals and diaries that they wrote during WWI or WWII. Through these personal letters, we get an intimate snapshot of what their lives were like and who they were as people. However, with technology and communication becoming more and more synonymous every day, it does not seem so far-fetched to say our children and grandchildren will relive the stories of our lives through old hard drives and Internet files.

It slightly disturbs me to think my children will be able to access my old Facebook status updates to see what my thoughts or activities of the day were. They will be able to see firsthand my pictures and interests, as well as everyone I was “friends” with via social networks. The truly scary part, however, is the possibility that they will remember me not through an intimate account of my personal thoughts and details of my life events, but rather through a public forum that gives a watered-down description of who I am.

Social networking is so thoroughly integrated into our society that it is not just my generation that has adapted to it but also my parents’ and even my grandparents’ generation that have bought into it. Even e-mail is less frequent because all my friends and family have the ability to keep up with me by writing short messages on my wall, viewing my pictures and seeing my daily status updates. “Real time” has become so paramount that people take pause in milestone moments to inform the world of said milestone moment through status updates.

Moreover, how we represent ourselves through these mediums is interesting as well. The operative word in public forum is public. Much like when we are going on a first date or meeting new people, we tend to want to look our best. It’s no different online. Social networking — despite how much we all want to deny it — has a large component of vanity to it. How many of us have gone through our Facebook profiles and untagged all the unflattering photos others have taken of us? Or spent a precarious amount of time editing and re-editing our interests and “about me” sections? It’s still us — but it’s the more dressed up, “show-and-tell” version of us.

Social networking has made itself a staple in our society and has proven that it is here to stay. That’s all fine. But let us not forget to leave something else behind. These “artifacts” could be diary entries that we wrote thinking no one would ever read them, handwritten letters to relatives who don’t know how to use e-mail, and maybe even choosing to leave the bad photos on Facebook along with the good. Because for a generation that has so much potential, we don’t deserve to be remembered solely through our status updates.

Image by Muffet.

Saying ‘I Do’ to an Online Identity

Posted on June 15, 2010 by 1 Comment

Weddings are steeped in tradition — many of which my fiance and I are bucking. In two short weeks, we’ll pack up the car, head north and enter into wedded bliss. Although we’re forgoing the traditional wedding format, I am going completely old school and taking his name, dropping Warrick from the lineup completely. I love my middle name Dorothy (it’s a family name) and four names is too many for me. So starting in July, I will be Sarah Luzader.

Image from Spirit Mama on flickrWhich isn’t really a big deal (long lines at the DMV aside), except that I’ve been pretty adept at capturing Sarah Warrick wherever possible online. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Flickr to name a few. So now what? The instructions for changing your name on driver’s license, bank account, passport, etc., are all pretty clear and available. But what to do online? Here’s a rundown of name-change policies on the top sites I use:

Facebook.Once you’ve locked your vanity URL, it can’t be undone. So unless I want to forgo all of my current content and friends and start over, my URL will remain the same. I can update my username to include my maiden name as my “full alternate name” in parentheses. So it will look like Sarah (Warrick) Luzader. Relatively painless process, but I wish I could update the URL, too.

Twitter.It’s easy to change your username on Twitter, but it wisely recommends that you let your followers know so that they use the right name when replying to or mentioning you. Your URL should update to reflect your new username, unless it is already in use.

LinkedIn.Similar to Twitter, once you change your username, the URL will update (assuming the new name is available) to match it. This is an easy one! But since I’ve spent 10 years in the workforce under Warrick, it will definitely remain highly visible and searchable so I’m easy to find. 

Flickr.Once you’ve established your custom Flickr URL, it can’t be changed. You can change your username as often as you’d like. It’s also easy to update your profile. Similar to Facebook, unless I want to forego the 1,000+ photos I’ve uploaded to Flickr, I’ll need to stick with Warrick.

So there you have it. A mixed bag. It drives me a little crazy to have a mismatch of names and identities floating around but not enough to forgo my future husband’s name. In the future, my name captures will be different, and I predict the tradition of online identities as a basic first and last name will shift as more and more people build their identities online.

Image by SpiritMama.

The Kids Don’t Like It [Blogging]

Posted on February 4, 2010 by 6 Comments

WritingTo be honest, I’m more than a bit worried when it comes to kids and their communication skills. I’ll take it multiple steps further and say I’m concerned about the current trends around how we all get and share information.

While Idiocracy was an absolutely terrible movie, it did paint what many fear may just be the future of mankind. For those who have avoided wasting 84 minutes of your life on the film, allow me to summarize the concept briefly. In the movie, survival of the fittest has been replaced by survival of the dumbest as laziness and an obsession with mindlessness has rotted our species’ brains over time. We in turn are left with societies that can’t think for themselves and spend days on end watching trash TV, contributing nothing and rapidly devolving.

Results from a recent survey by the Pew Research Center underscore what may be construed as a similar, though far less exaggerated decline. The study, which was released on Wednesday, indicates that the percentage of teens and young adults who actively blog has dropped off by about 50 percent when comparing 2009 with 2006. As was predicted, the other main trend of the study revolved around the meteoric rise in the popularity of social networks.

As long(er) form methods of communication drop off in favor of status updates and wall posts, where will the future content creators of tomorrow hone their writing skills? Will uploading mobile photos and clicking “like” displace thoughtful discourse and ultimately lead to a dumbed-down society? Before LiveJournal there were journals but what comes after them both?

Image credit: Marind

Can Companies Fit into the Dunbar 150?

Posted on February 1, 2010 by 7 Comments

Ever since I joined Facebook in 2004 (and MySpace at some forgettable moment likely before then), I’ve been interested to see how social networking impacts an individual’s social structure. When one of my more outgoing friends reached the 1,000-friends mark during Facebook’s first year, my interest in that question intensified. Would this friend truly be able to maintain meaningful relationships with such a large group of people?

Friend Request Accepted (Dentyne)

The short, predictable answer is no, and countless numbers of people have been interested in this very question, including, most famously, Robin Dunbar, professor of Evolutionary Anthropology at Oxford University. Though the results of his study will be published later this year,  the Times Online has the early scoop on Dunbar’s latest findings. Some key excerpts below.

Dunbar is now studying social networking websites to see if the “Facebook effect” has stretched the size of social groupings. Preliminary results suggest it has not.

“The interesting thing is that you can have 1,500 friends but when you actually look at traffic on sites, you see people maintain the same inner circle of around 150 people that we observe in the real world,” said Dunbar.

“People obviously like the kudos of having hundreds of friends but the reality is that they’re unlikely to be bigger than anyone else’s.”

Having some scientific proof of this constraint, how will this affect how companies attempt to become a part of their customers’ online life?

Image by acordova

Social Networking in Jerusalem

Posted on August 6, 2009 by Comments Off

Michele Nachum, Account Director, WE Studio D

We all know that social networking is a global phenomenon, but delving into the specifics of why people in different regions use social media is always interesting. Recently I traveled to Israel to visit with family. I spoke to my teenage stepkids, Adiel and Sharon, ages 16 and 14 (who live there with their mom) and my 17-year old niece, Bat Sheva, about their social networking habits. I was curious whether their social media habits were different from what people are doing in the U.S. and what their motivations were for using the tools.

All three live in Jerusalem. Growing up there is exciting with its ancient ruins, fascinating museums and cool tree-lined streets with quaint outdoor cafes. Like many of the big cities in Israel, Jerusalem is growing in leaps and bounds, but it’s a city that spiritually and politically speaking is very intense – and for its residents it also can be like a small town. While the city is fairly large and sprawling, it is made up of smaller neighborhoods where everyone knows each other. In these small enclaves, people have very strong beliefs about what to wear (in the orthodox sections that means girls in long skirts and guys in suits), how to pray, what to eat, etc.

So for Sharon, Adiel and Bat Sheva, social networking is an outlet, a place where they can be themselves without fear of censorship, where they can vent and feel safe.

SharonSharon and Bat Sheva are avid Facebook users who between them have nearly 1,000 friends from school, camp and scouts. Sharon also uses Connections, a regional site, as well as MySpace. She tells me that Facebook is her favorite of the social networking sites and spends a good portion of her day posting her thoughts, photos and shopping trips to her hundreds of friends. A self-professed drama queen, her posts are chock-full of hearts, exclamation points and happy faces. Here is a sample: היום יום הולדת יום יום הולדת היום יום הולדת לשרון ורותם!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ (translation: It’s my birthday! It’s my birthday!)

Funny enough, she “friended” my husband and me on Facebook. I asked her why; after all most teens don’t want their parents peeking into their online lives. She said, “I don’t care … what do I have to hide?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “What DO you have to hide?”

“Nothing I would put on Facebook.”

Bat Sheva is very artistic and fiercely independent. She colors her hair a different shade every few days, and has little desire to blend in with the neighbors. She also has a deep love of poetry and photography. Weekly, her unusual photos and poems are posted on Facebook in both English and Hebrew for her 575 friends.

AdielSocial networking is not really Adiel’s thing. He’s not one to “express” himself with continual posts the way his sister and cousin do. Instead, he prefers to communicate with his friends until four in the morning (instead of studying, mind you) on ICQ, the instant messenger service that began in Israel and is now owned by AOL. Thanks to his frequent IMs, Adiel has been in trouble with several members of the female population for talking to many of his girlfriends at the same time.

Overall, the social networking habits of Israeli teens are not that different from the U.S. However, Israel is a different type of place to grow up. Even in peaceful times, danger lurks in the minds of all its residents – and vigilance is a way of life. If you ask Sharon, Adiel or Bat Sheva about it, they will shrug it off like it’s no big deal. But they understand the reality of their lives and deal with it the best they know how.

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