Social Networking Sites: to type oneself into being

On: October 1, 2009
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About Rutger van den Berg
Rutger is a 23 year old New Media student living in Amsterdam. In March of 2009 he graduated in communication science at the University of Amsterdam, During his master he specialized in Popular Culture & Media Entertainment. Currently He's deepening his knowledge of New Media, studying for his second masters degree at the University of Amsterdam


Profiles are unique pages where one can “type oneself into being[1]. “Typing oneself into being” sounds like a great way to summarize a person’s motive for online exposure. When you’re not online, you seem to be nowhere at all. Creating an online profile on a social networking site is an easy way to develop an online identity. This online profile is the basis for creating an online network. Social networking sites show enormous potential for their users to meet new people, but according to Boyd[2] social networking site users don’t really try to meet new people online, they rather use the websites to articulate and make visible their social networks. The online networks are being used to confirm already existing offline connections. At this moment most of the online networks within social networking sites are a prolongation of people’s offline lives. They don’t seem to be autonomous networks standing on their own.

But there are signs of a kind of correlation between the online and offline networks. In some examples online networks are being used to try and stimulate and expand the offline networks. An interesting example can be found in this (Dutch) article. It’s about an interactive divine service organized by a protestant priest from Amsterdam. According to the priest it is the first LinkedIn divine service ever. It will be the first time all the people who are part of the online protestant LinkedIn network are able to meet in real life. Besides that, for the people who can’t make it to the meeting there’s the alternative to contribute to the meeting through the showing of their live messages on LinkedIn and twitter on a big screen. This is a good example of an online network giving an impulse to an offline network. The protestant church is using the new medium to support their offline community. Online social networks clearly can be used as a tool for support of their offline counterpart.  On a more individual level, the creation of a personal online network also seems to be supportive for a person’s offline network. Adding an offline contact as an online “friend” to your network is a very easy way to not forget about that person and by that is a perfect motivation to keep in touch. For instance Lampe, Ellison and Steinfield[3] found that Facebook users engage in searching for people with whom they have an offline connection more than they “browse” for complete strangers. Boyd[2] also argues that Myspace and Facebook enable U.S. youth to socialize with their friends even when they are unable to gather in unmediated situations, she argues that social networking sites are “networked publics” that support sociability, just as unmediated spaces do.

Looking at it from this perspective, individual online networks can give a strong impulse to a person’s offline network. But because of that, the online network could also be considered as a  simple tool to support someone’s offline social life. When considering this supporting role of online networks I started wondering whether it is really necessary to “type oneself into being”. An online identity doesn’t necessarily lead to a new or bigger network, so why would you put in the effort to construct one? Of course the motivation can be found in the increasing digitalization of society. The online and offline networks seem to be highly intertwined and maintaining each other. In this digital age a large amount of our time is spend surfing the web and using all kinds of other Internet applications. Social networking sites give us the opportunity to expand our social activities to our online world and because of that give us the opportunity to spend more time maintaining our social relationships. Social networking sites are really helpful in keeping in touch with everyone you know and deepening your relationships with new people you meet. Despite this valid motivation for using social networking websites as an extension of our offline social lives, it would be interesting to see whether it is possible to create a valuable social network inside a social networking site totally depending on online contacts, without a direct link to offline life. Right now this doesn’t seem to be the case, but with the increasing digitalization of society it might become a real possibility in the future.

[1] Sundén, 2003, in Boyd, D. (2007) Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication. 13(1)

[2] Boyd, D. (2007)Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication. 13(1)

[3] Lampe, Ellison and Steinfield, 2006. in Boyd, D. (2007) Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication. 13(1)

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