Born into digital lives: average newborn online within an hour of birth

The newborns of today arrive online very quickly:

The poll found that parents were the most likely to upload pictures of the newborns (62 per cent), followed by other family members (22 per cent) and friends (16 per cent).

The most popular platform for displaying these first baby images was Facebook, followed by Instagram and Flickr…

Marc Phelps of baby photo agency, which commissioned the survey, said: “The fact that a picture of the average newborn is now online within an hour just goes to highlight the enormous impact social media has had on our lives in the past five years, and how prevalent these pages are in helping to keep loved ones informed on the special occasions in our lives, such as the birth of a new child.

Some more on the survey:

The poll by print site, which surveyed 2,367 parents of children aged five and under, aimed to discover the impact social media have had on the way new parents share information and images of their offspring…

The top five reasons cited for sharing these images online included keeping distant family and friends updated (56%), expressing love for their children (49%), describing it as an ideal location to store memories (34%), saying it is a great way to record children’s early years (28%), and to brag to and “better” other parents’ photos (22%).

It sounds like complete digital immersion. The most common reason given for this practice mirror the main reasons users give for participating in SNS like Facebook: to remain connected with others. But, the next four reasons differ. The second and fifth reasons suggest posting photos about newborns is about social interactions, first with the new baby (positive, though the baby doesn’t know it – plus, this could be part of a public performance of how love is shown in the 2010s) but then also in competition with others (negative). The third and fourth reasons are more about new digital tools; instead of developing film or printing pictures, SNS can be online repositories of life (offloading our memories online).

Thinking more broadly, what are the ethics of posting pictures of people online who haven’t given their permission or don’t know they are online? This could apply to children but this could also apply to friends or even strangers who end up in your photos. Some have suggested companies like Facebook have information on people who don’t have profiles through the information provided by others. Plus, if you don’t go online, others might think you are suspicious. So, perhaps the best way to protect your content online is not to withdraw and try to hide but rather to rigorously monitor all possible options…

Argument: Chomsky wrong to suggest Twitter is “superficial, shallow, evanescent”

Nathan Jurgenson argues that Noam Chomsky’s thoughts about Twitter are misguided:

Noam Chomsky has been one of the most important critics of the way big media crowd out “everyday” voices in order to control knowledge and “manufacture consent.” So it is surprising that the MIT linguist dismisses much of our new digital communications produced from the bottom-up as “superficial, shallow, evanescent.” We have heard this critique of texting and tweeting from many others, such as Andrew Keen and Nicholas Carr. And these claims are important because they put Twitter and texting in a hierarchy of thought. Among other things, Chomsky and Co. are making assertions that one way of communicating, thinking and knowing is better than another…

Claiming that certain styles of communicating and knowing are not serious and not worthy of extended attention is nothing new. It’s akin to those claims that graffiti isn’t art and rap isn’t music. The study of knowledge (aka epistemology) is filled with revealing works by people like Michel Foucault, Jean-François Lyotard or Patricia Hill Collins who show how ways of knowing get disqualified or subjugated as less true, deep or important…

In fact, in the debate about whether rapid and social media really are inherently less deep than other media, there are compelling arguments for and against. Yes, any individual tweet might be superficial, but a stream of tweets from a political confrontation like Tahrir Square, a war zone like Gaza or a list of carefully-selected thinkers makes for a collection of expression that is anything but shallow. Social media is like radio: It all depends on how you tune it…

Chomsky, a politically progressive linguist, should know better than to dismiss new forms of language-production that he does not understand as “shallow.” This argument, whether voiced by him or others, risks reducing those who primarily communicate in this way as an “other,” one who is less fully human and capable. This was Foucault’s point: Any claim to knowledge is always a claim to power. We might ask Chomsky today, when digital communications are disqualified as less deep, who benefits?

Back to a classic question: is it the medium or the message? Is there something inherent about 140 character statements and how they must be put together that makes them different than other forms of human communication? I like that Jurgenson notes historical precedent: these arguments have also accompanied the introduction of radio, television, and the Internet.

But could we tweak Chomsky’s thoughts to make them more palatable? What if Chomsky had said that the average Twitter experience was superficial, would he be incorrect? Perhaps the right comparison is necessary – Twitter is more superficial compared to face-to-face contact? But is it more superficial than no contact since face-to-face time is limited? Jurgenson emphasizes the big picture of Twitter, its ability to bring people together and give people the opportunity to follow others and “tune in.” In particular, Twitter and other social media forms allow the average person in the world to potentially have a voice in a way that was never possible before. But for the average user, how much are they benefiting – are they tuned in to major social movements or celebrity feeds? What their friends are saying right now or progress updates from non-profit organizations? Is this a beneficial public space for the average user?

Additionally, does it matter here if Twitter had advertisements and made a big push to make money off of this versus providing a more democratic space? Is Twitter more democratic and deep than Facebook? How would one decide?

In the end, is this simply a generational split?

(See earlier posts on a similar topic: Malcolm Gladwell on the power of Twitter, how Twitter contributed (or didn’t) to movements in the Middle East, and whether using Twitter in the classroom improves student learning outcomes.)

Twentysomething: “What people in the past might have gotten from church, I get from the Internet and Facebook”

In a small segment of a larger interesting article about “twentysomethings” (known in some academic circles as “emerging adults”), one twentysomething blogger talks about the role the Internet plays in her generation’s lives:

Thorman suffered the post-college blues. She worked in an entry-level job, was in a so-so relationship, and wondered if this was all there was to life. Her existence, she says, felt inconsequential: “You graduate from college and you want to matter and be a part of something bigger.”

Then she launched her blog, and all of a sudden she was engaging hundreds of people from around the world in a discussion. The Internet gave her a place for connection and community much like neighborhood bars and churches did for previous generations.

Thorman is part of the 25 percent of twentysomethings today who say they have no religious affiliation. “What people in the past might have gotten from church, I get from the Internet and Facebook,” she says. “That is our religion.”

I have read a number of articles about SNS and Facebook use among emerging adults but I’ve never quite seen this idea before: religion has been replaced by Internet communities.

Additionally, the motivation for being part of these communities is different:

But blogging isn’t just about community and connectivity. It’s fundamentally about the individual. “I like blogging because I feel like a mini-celebrity,” Thorman says.

She’s not the only one to express that sentiment. “Attention is my drug,” Julia Allison told a New York Times writer. Allison is a Georgetown grad who became an Internet celebrity in her twenties and whose photo landed on the cover of Wired magazine with the headline GET INTERNET FAMOUS! EVEN IF YOU’RE NOBODY—JULIA ALLISON AND THE SECRETS OF SELF-PROMOTION. A Pew Research poll asked 18-to-25-year-olds about their generation’s top goals, and 51 percent responded with “to be famous.”

But Thorman doesn’t want fame in the Paris Hilton way—famous for being famous. She wants to be recognized, on the Internet, for her insights and ideas.

These online communities are different than traditional religion then in that the focus is on the individual users and their accomplishments rather than a transcendent power or a totem (in Durkheimian terms).

Where will this all end up? Some options you will hear in the popular discourse:

1. Disillusionment. This article talks a lot about twentysomethings looking for fulfillment and the Internet helps provide this. But is this ultimately satisfying? What if one can’t find a fulfilling long-term career? What if the other choices that were not taken always look more attractive? This argument tends to come from older generations – is there a way that twentysomethings can avoid this?

2. This is just another sign of secularization as organized religion drops in influence among younger generations.

3. The America celebrity culture, literally at everyone’s fingertips both as consumers and producers, will continue to grow. This celebrity culture will make it difficult to have intellectual discussion and debates in an online realm where even the most traditional news organizations have to cater to celebrity-hungry web surfers.

4. If these are the goals of this generation, who will tackle the big issues like dealing with poverty in the world, paying for Social Security and Medicare, etc?

It will be fascinating to watch how this all shakes out.

New “friend prediction program” based on the places one visits

Three researchers have developed a “friend prediction program” that accounts for the locations someone visits:

Through an extension of the “long-standing sociological theory” people who tend to frequent the same places may be similarly-minded individuals, Salvatore Scellato, Anastasios Noulas, and Cecilia Mascolo, have developed a friend prediction program based on the places people visit.

Sites such as Facbook and LinkedIn often suggest friends based on a ‘friend of a friend’ approach but now it could be based on where users ‘check in’.

The system would also use different weightings for places like gyms – where people frequent – as opposed to airports, where people visit only occasionally…

They discovered about 30 per cent of social links developed because of people visiting the same places.

It sounds like location is not everything when it comes to forming friendships but it does play an important role.

I don’t know if many people think about why they are friends with the people they are friends with but I suspect one argument might emerge: we choose to be friends with our friends. Such a story would fit with tales we tell about finding romantic partners. It gives agency to each participant and suggests each person found the other to be likeable. But perhaps another story might emerge as well: we just sort of started hanging out together. This story would be tied to proximity: people who are placed or place themselves in particular places or situations are more likely to become friends. Some classic examples include being in a series of high school classes together, being assigned to certain roommates early on in college, starting work at a particular company. In each of these situations, people still have some room to choose their friends but their pool of possible friends is more limited by structural forces. Theoretically, you could be friends with anyone but realistically, you will come in contact with a more limited number of people in life.

Perhaps some still think that the Internet can reduce the impact of proximity by connecting people who never or rarely are in the same location. However, research suggests that most SNS (Facebook, Myspace, etc.) relationships are based on existing off-line relationships. The power of proximity will last for some time, even if most people don’t think about it.

Google+ a “sociologically simple and elegant solution”?

According to one reviewer, Google+ takes advantage of sociological principles with its circles:

You also don’t have to ask anybody to be your “friend”. Nor do you have to reply to anybody’s “friend request”. You simple put people into the discrete/discreet spheres they already inhabit in your life…

Now, if you had asked me which company I considered least likely to come up with such a sociologically simple and elegant solution, I might well have answered: Google.

Its founders and honchos worship algorithms more than Mark Zuckerberg does. (I used to exploit this geekiness as “color” in my profiles of Google from that era.) Google then seemed to live down to our worst fears by making several seriously awkward attempts at “social” (called Buzz and Wave and so forth).

But these calamities seem to have been blessings. Google seems to have been humbled into honesty and introspection. It then seems to have done the unthinkable and consulted not only engineers but … sociologists (yuck). And now it has come back with … this.

Why exactly do algorithms and sociological principles have to be in opposition to each other? It is a matter of what informs these algorithms: brute efficiency, sociological principles, something else…

Ultimately, couldn’t we also argue that the sociological validity of Google+ will be demonstrated by whether it catches on or not? Facebook may not be elegant or “correct” but people have found it useful and at least worthwhile to join(even if some loath it). Perhaps this is too pragmatic of an answer (if it works, it is successful) but this seems to make sense with social media.

This reminds me as well of the idea expressed in The Facebook Effect (quick review here) that Facebook wishes to reach a point where people are willing to share their information with lots of people they may not know. If this is still the goal, Google+ then is more conservative in that people can restrict information by circle. I suspect it will be a while before a majority of people are willing to go the route suggested by Facebook but perhaps Facebook is being more “progressive” in the long run by trying to push people in a new direction.

Facebook information and privacy: enticing or overwhelming?

There are a lot of users of Facebook and similar sites. One of the primary concerns of users is privacy: who can see their personal information and how it might be used. Two commentators talk about how users respond to this issue:

Sociologist Nathan Jurgenson has an interesting post about Facebook and his skepticism about proclamations of the end of privacy and anonymity. He deploys the postmodernist/poststructuralist insight that each piece of information shared raises more questions about what hasn’t been said, and thus strategic sharing can create different realms of personal privacy and public mystery.

We know that knowledge, including what we post on social media, indeed follows the logic of the fan dance: we always enact a game of reveal and conceal, never showing too much else we have given it all away. It is better to entice by strategically concealing the right “bits” at the right time. For every status update there is much that is not posted. And we know this. What is hidden entices us.

I think this is missing the point. I feel like I need to use all caps to stress this: LOTS OF PEOPLE DON’T WANT ATTENTION. They don’t want to be enticing. Privacy is not about hiding the truth. It’s about being able to avoid the spotlight…

Social media confronts us with how little control we have over our public identity, which is put into play and reinterpreted and tossed around while we watch—while all the distortions and gossip gets fed back to us by the automated feedback channels. Some people find this thrilling. Others find it terrible. It’s always been true that we don’t control how we are seen, but at least we could control how much we had to know about it. It’s harder now to be aloof, to be less aware of our inevitable performativity. We are forced instead to fight for the integrity of our manufactured personal brand.

Jurgenson seems to be referring to the impression management work done by users who are able to craft their image. Most users know that certain pieces of information can hurt them, such as unpleasant photos, so they don’t include that information. Even more so, users try to present a positive image of themselves with generally happy pictures and an acceptable set of interests and activities. And there is a lot that is hidden: I would guess that a majority of users post pretty infrequently. This impression management, reminiscent of Goffman’s front-stage/back-stage dichotomy, has been well established by researchers.

Rob Horning, responding to Jurgenson, suggests that Facebook exposes “how little control we have over our public identity.” This may be true: even small pieces of information might present problems. Additionally, I think he is right in saying that a lot of users don’t want attention: they simply want a low-maintenance way to connect with current and past friends.

But, I would argue that users have a good amount of control over their “public identity” on the Internet. To start, they don’t have to participate and a sizable minority does not. It seems like the easiest way to lose control over what is available on the Internet is to post it yourself, whether on Facebook or a blog or Twitter feed or somewhere else. Second, even if one does participate, Jurgenson suggests that much still remains hidden. There are few people who are willing to reveal everything and few who actually want to. (I’ve always wondered if Facebook users are mostly annoyed with those people who do seem to present everything, good and bad, through their profiles.) Third, one can be friends who they want, limiting who is going to see and possibly use this information. I think a lot of the genius of Facebook is that users feel like they are in control of these aspects and generally resist efforts that use their information in ways that they may not desire. In the end, there are ways in which one can participate without doing much or exposing much.

Horning’s conclusion is interesting: “It’s harder now to be aloof, to be less aware of our inevitable performativity. We are forced instead to fight for the integrity of our manufactured personal brand.” Perhaps this is the real issue, not privacy: since we know that there are others crafting their personal image, we now have the choice to keep up or not. It is not quite a competition but rather mediated social interaction where we can see how others (and they can see how we) “put ourselves together” online. The SNS realm is now another social realm to worry about and it is hard to get away from: did I post a witty enough comment? Is that picture flattering of me? Should I be Facebook friends with that person I never really talked to? These decisions may be consequential…or they may not.

Facebook loses users in the US, UK – what does it mean?

Facebook has had a meteoric rise – but there are some signs that the growth is slowing:

Fearing for their privacy or perhaps just bored with using the site, 100,000 Britons are said to have deactivated their accounts last month.

And Facebook fatigue seems to be catching. Six million logged off for good in the U.S. too, figures show.

Worldwide, the rate of growth has slowed for a second month in a row – and as it aims to reach its goal of one billion active users, Facebook is having to rely on developing countries to boost its numbers…

‘By the time Facebook reaches around 50 per cent of the total population in a given country, growth generally slows to a halt,’ [Eric Eldon] explained.

This article is rife with speculation: users could be upset with privacy, people could be fatigued or bored with Facebook, etc. Here are a few of these scenarios with my own thoughts:

1. There are only so many people in the world who will use Facebook anyway. It requires using the Internet consistently, whether this is by computer or some mobile device. While it may be “normal” for the younger generations (though the user rate is not 100% here either), it is used less by older generations (even though there has been growth among these sectors). I wonder what sort of saturation point Facebook itself predicted.

1a. Is it really a big deal if Facebook’s growth is now concentrated in developing countries? Is this really any different than many other American companies?

1b. Perhaps we have entered Facebook’s “mature” stage where they can no longer coast based on word-of-mouth and spectacular growth and now need to fight for new users. How long until we see Facebook TV ads trying to entice new users?

2. The article suggests the novelty of Facebook might be wearing off. Perhaps it doesn’t have enough new features – even though the changes in recent years have induced much hand-wringing, it really hasn’t changed that much. Perhaps it has too many people on there and is no longer exclusive enough – this point was driven home by The Social Network as the Winklevoss’ started with a plan to capitalize on the exclusivity of Harvard.

2a. I wonder if Facebook itself is happy with the progress it has made. On one hand, it could generate a lot of money based on targeted advertising. On the other hand, there is some evidence that Zuckerberg wishes it was much more open than it is now. Even though there are no more networks, many people are still tied to friends and acquaintances and don’t wander too far beyond this. How do you connect these newer users around the world to established users or would this be a no-go among users?

2b. The day-to-day novelty of the product should consist of what one’s friends add to the site. Without interesting status updates, pictures, news, and more, what else draws users? Farmville? Making a “friend” connection is one thing – but this is not too interesting if neither side adds new information. So beyond vanity, how can users be provoked to add more?

3. I don’t really buy the privacy argument. Some people are concerned but they are concerned about privacy in a lot of other places as well. If people were really worried about privacy, there would be a lot of things that they wouldn’t do on the Internet, let alone Facebook.

4. Perhaps some people are interested in the story of Facebook losing steam. After all, a narrative where Facebook keeps rising might not be that interesting. How long until we see more stories about competitors to Facebook, like Twitter in the US, or Orkut elsewhere?

5. These numbers regarding the loss of users have no context: how do they compare to similar figures from previous time periods? Is this an increase in the number of users who have left? Certainly, not all users have continued with Facebook after joining.

Dunbar’s number: 150 friends is our limit

It seems like it is pretty easy to collect hundreds of friends on Facebook. Between people we know from years of schools plus jobs plus other activities, the number can increase quickly. But having a large number of online “friends” goes against Dunbar’s number:

Most of Dunbar’s research has focused on why the GORE-TEX model was a success. That model is based on the idea that human beings can hold only about 150 meaningful relationships in their heads. Dunbar has researched the idea so deeply, the number 150 has been dubbed “Dunbar’s Number.”

Ironically, the term was coined on Facebook, where 150 friends may seem like precious few…

Dunbar has found 150 to be the sweet spot for hunter-gatherer societies all over the world. From the Bushmen of Southern Africa to Native American tribes, a typical community is about 150 people. Amish and Hutterite communities — even most military companies around the world — seem to follow the same rule.

The reason 150 is the optimal number for a community comes from our primate ancestors, Dunbar says. In smaller groups, primates could work together to solve problems and evade predators. Today, 150 seems to be the number at which our brains just max out on memory.

Dunbar goes on to suggest that larger organizations then have to find ways to create smaller groups where people can still maintain connections with others.

I’ve thought for a while that Facebook should move away from saying that all people you are connected to are “friends.” This indicates a closeness that I suspect doesn’t really exist in many of these online relationships. They are probably more like “acquaintances” or “people you have interacted with.” But, imagine what would happen if someone you thought was a friend marks you an acquaintance or vice versa. Additionally, by calling everyone a friend, you are suggesting that you are open to a broader set of relationships and Facebook is interested in bringing more people together. If we wanted to get more sociological, we might call these “strong” and “weak” ties but this seems fairly impersonal.

Figures from a few years ago suggested that people had an average of 120 Facebook friends. This still seems like a lot even as sociological research from 2006 (read the full study here) suggests that Americans have fewer confidants and less contact with existing confidants:

In 1985, the average American had three people in whom to confide matters that were important to them, says a study in today’s American Sociological Review. In 2004, that number dropped to two, and one in four had no close confidants at all…

The percentage of people who confide only in family increased from 57% to 80%, and the number who depend totally on a spouse is up from 5% to 9%, the study found. “If something happens to that spouse or partner, you may have lost your safety net,” Smith-Lovin says.

Here are two tentative hypotheses regarding this data:

1. Younger Facebook users are more likely to have higher numbers of friends. This seems to be driven by being students in high school and college where it is common to friend lots of people across a broad swath of classroom, social activity, and living situations.

2. Older Facebook users are more uncomfortable with the term “friends” to describe online relationships. Of course, as the younger generation ages and is used to such terms, the term will become more normal.

Growing numbers of senior citizens on Facebook, SNS

Facebook is growing all over the world but especially among American senior citizens:

Edelman is one of many senior citizens using social networking at rapidly increasing rates, according to a 2010 study by the Pew Research Center. Social networking use among Internet users ages 50 and older has nearly doubled — from 22 percent to 42 percent between 2009 and 2010, according to the study. For Internet users older than 74, that number has quadrupled, from 4 percent to 16 percent.

Indeed, women over 55 are the fastest-growing demographic on Facebook, according to, a website that tracks and analyzes user data…

According to iStrategyLabs, a Washington, D.C., social media marketing firm that tracks user data, about 10.6 percent of Facebook users are over the age of 55, a 59 percent increase from 2010…

While Twitter and Facebook users who send out status updates may tend to skew younger, with most members under 40, the average age of a LinkedIn user is 45, said Krista Canfield, a spokeswoman for the business-oriented social networking site. One trend Canfield said she sees among older LinkedIn users is a desire to retain connections with former co-workers.

Considering Facebook is just six years old and started among college students, these numbers are remarkable.

It strikes me that today’s older generations (and future older generations) will need to be more tech-savvy than previous older generations. This could have some benefits (staying connected) and some downsides (see this recent research on problems with multitasking). Just as young adulthood (“emerging adults”) is being transformed before our eyes, what it means to be a senior citizen is also rapidly changing.