The Situationist

Posts Tagged ‘Facebook’

Christakis Speaks to Harvard Freshmen about Social Networks

Posted by The Situationist Staff on September 3, 2011

From the Harvard Gazette:

Harvard College freshmen got their first taste Aug. 26 of the world of ideas awaiting them over the next four years in a talk by Professor Nicholas Christakis, who argued that human social networks have the power to spread obesity — or happiness — like contagion.

Christakis, who teaches at Harvard Medical School as well as the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, delivered the 2011 Opening Days Lecture, “Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives.” He told students at the outset that his work is not primarily concerned with online social networks, but instead focuses on “old-fashioned, face-to-face” relationships and their construction and meaning in people’s lives. A “bucket brigade,” for example, is a network of individuals optimized to perform a task in pursuit of a goal: the transport of water to extinguish a fire. Take the same network and organize it in a different way, and it will be optimized for a different purpose: a telephone tree to disseminate information; a Ponzi scheme for the profit of grifters.

Christakis, who is a medical doctor as well as a Ph.D., discussed his interest in the impact of human social networks on public health. In 2002, he and some colleagues studied the problem of obesity, often called an “epidemic” in Western society. Christakis said he wanted to examine social networks to see whether or not obesity actually spreads from person to person, like a virus. He showed students graphs of data from the 30-year Framingham Heart Study, and explained how he and his colleagues analyzed clusters to see if someone were more likely to become obese if a friend were overweight.

“We found that, if your friend is obese, there is a 45 percent greater likelihood that you will become obese,” he said. “If your friend’s friend is obese, the likelihood is 25 percent higher. In fact, only at four degrees of separation — your friend’s friend’s friend’s friend— is there no longer a relationship between that person’s body size and yours.”

Christakis said that he and his colleagues found that human social networks could also move public health in a positive direction. For example, since 1971, the proportion of the U.S. population that smokes tobacco went from 40 percent to 20. Christakis again displayed data from the Framingham study that showed people typically quit smoking in clusters. A person was more likely to stop using tobacco if his or her friend — or even a friend’s friend — stopped.

The study of networks and happiness gave Christakis his greatest personal satisfaction, he said, and allowed him to settle an old debate.

“In high school, [my friends and I] would tell our mothers, ‘If I could just be more popular, then I would be more happy,’ ’’ he said. “Our mothers would say, ‘Actually, if you become more happy, then you’d be more popular.’ It turns out that we were right, and our mothers were wrong! Being in the middle of a network enhances your happiness. If you become more popular, that contributes to being happy more than being happy contributes to being more popular.”

Toward the end of his talk, Christakis did turn to the differences between online and traditional networks. In a study of Harvard undergraduates on Facebook, he found that students had an average of about 110 “friends.” To see how many of these relationships were close and how many tenuous, he had some students look at Facebook profiles to see how often classmates uploaded and tagged photographs of people they were connected to online. The findings reinforced the value of relationships based on traditional face-to-face contact.

“You might have 1,000 friends on Facebook, but only for a subset of them do you appear in a photograph that gets uploaded and tagged with your name,” Christakis explained. “Based on this, we found that people typically had over 100 Facebook friends, but only six real friends [who uploaded and tagged their photo].”

In light of these results, Christakis expressed concern about the way that Facebook had changed the meaning of the word “friend.”

“It’s very interesting to me that Facebook has managed to co-opt a very old word in our language — friend — and apply it where it has no business,” he said. “All those people, they’re not your friends. At best, they’re your acquaintances.”


Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Emotions | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

The Social Status Situation of Online Networks

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 16, 2009

Facebook ImageBreeanna Hare of has an interesting piece on how membership in online networks may signal social status.  We excerpt the piece below.

* * *

Is there a class divide online? Research suggests yes. A recent study by market research firm Nielsen Claritas found that people in more affluent demographics are 25 percent more likely to be found friending on Facebook, while the less affluent are 37 percent more likely to connect on MySpace.

More specifically, almost 23 percent of Facebook users earn more than $100,000 a year, compared to slightly more than 16 percent of MySpace users. On the other end of the spectrum, 37 percent of MySpace members earn less than $50,000 annually, compared with about 28 percent of Facebook users.

MySpace users tend to be “in middle-class, blue-collar neighborhoods,” said Mike Mancini, vice president of data product management for Nielsen, which used an online panel of more than 200,000 social media users in the United States in August. “They’re on their way up, or perhaps not college educated.”

By contrast, Mancini said, “Facebook [use] goes off the charts in the upscale suburbs,” driven by a demographic that for Nielsen is represented by white or Asian married couples between the ages of 45-64 with kids and high levels of education.

Even more affluent are users of Twitter, the microblogging site, and LinkedIn, a networking site geared to white-collar professionals. Almost 38 percent of LinkedIn users earn more than $100,000 a year.

Nielsen also found a strong overlap between those who use Facebook and those who use LinkedIn, Mancini said.

Nielsen isn’t the first to find this trend. Ethnographer danah boyd, who does not capitalize her name, said she watched the class divide emerge while conducting research of American teens’ use of social networks in 2006.

When she began, she noticed the high school students all used MySpace, but by the end of the school year, they were switching to Facebook.

When boyd asked why, the students replied with reasons similar to Owens: “the features were better; MySpace is dangerous and Facebook is safe; my friends are here,” boyd recalled.

And then, boyd said, “a young woman, living in a small historical town in Massachussetts said to me, ‘I don’t mean to be a racist or anything, but MySpace is like, ghetto.'” For boyd, that’s when it clicked.

“It’s not a matter of choice between Facebook and MySpace, it was a movement to Facebook from MySpace,” she said, a movement that largely included the educated and the upper-class.

* * *

To read the rest click, here.  For a sample of related Situationist posts, see The Situation of Facebook Jealousy, The Social Awkwardness of Online Snubbing, Virtual Bias, and Internet Disinhibition.

Posted in Choice Myth, Entertainment | Tagged: , , | 3 Comments »

The Situation of Facebook Jealousy

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 15, 2009

JealousyMarc Beja of the Chronicles of Higher Education has an interesting piece on jealousy driving people to spend inordinate amounts of time on Facebook.  We excerpt this piece below.

* * *

Having relationship troubles? Is your significant other interrogating you, asking about your communication with people you used to date, or even with acquaintances you speak with infrequently?

Blame Facebook, say three researchers at the University of Guelph, in Ontario.

The reason? Jealousy. And not just any jealousy—”Facebook-specific jealousy,” say two Ph.D. candidates in psychology and their advisor. They add that such jealousy may increase the amount of time that you—or your significant other—spend on the social networking site.

The researchers—Amy Muise and Emily Christofides, both Ph.D. candidates, and Serge Desmarais, an associate professor of applied social psychology—wondered whether spying on their significant others would make people question the partners’ honesty and fidelity, and if time spent on the Web site would increase as a result. More than 300 undergraduate students completed an anonymous online survey about their Facebook habits. Of those, a little more than half said they were seriously dating one person.

The study relied on 27 items that were meant to assess Facebook-related jealousy, and a scale was created for each item. Results of the survey were published in the August edition of the journal CyberPsychology & Behavior in an article titled “More Information than You Even Wanted: Does Facebook Bring Out the Green-Eyed Monster of Jealousy?

The undergraduates were asked questions like “How likely are you to become jealous after your partner has added an unknown member of the opposite sex?” and “How likely are you to monitor your partner’s activities on Facebook?” The answer to both of those questions was “very likely” for a substantial number of participants. The respondents said they spent an average of nearly 40 minutes on the Web site each day, with women spending more time than men.

More than three-quarters of the participants said they knew their partners had added as “friends” people with whom they had previously had flings. And more than 92 percent said their partners were at least somewhat likely to have “friends” they did not themselves know.

Rising jealousy can be attributed to the social-networking site, which makes speaking with not-so-close friends easier than before, the researchers say. Many people add as friends people they have met in passing, rather than adding only acquaintances they see regularly. Men in the study reported having 100 more friends, on average, than women did. Women outscored men on the jealousy scale, averaging a score of 3.29 out of 7, while men scored 2.81. Three-quarters of those who completed the survey were women.

* * *

To read the rest, click here.  For a sample of related Situationist posts, see The Social Awkwardness of Online Snubbing, Virtual Bias, “Internet Disinhibition,” and The Situational Effect of Groups.

Posted in Emotions, Entertainment | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »

%d bloggers like this: