Final Essay

June 3, 2010

George Martinez

Sociology 88S

T.A Eric Kim

3 June 2010

Breaking Barriers: How the Internet Has Done More Than Bring Us Closer

The internet has greatly changed the lives of many people since it is a central, necessary part of everyday life. People now not only use the internet for the purpose of email, but as the world stands in 2010, the internet has also expanded to include digital methods to shop, video chat, call, watch television, movies, and do an assortment of other things that would impossible 20 years ago. By increasing the speed and efficiency in which people communicate, the Internet has pushed people closer together by providing a means for people to more easily connect with each other. Over the course of the spring quarter, the readings and experiments on topics like online self presentation, privacy paradoxes social capital arising from online networking, and possible changes coming to the way we communicate have allowed me to see how the internet has already changed the way we function as a society. By getting closer to each other and having more control over the image we send out of ourselves, the Internet has become a tool through which an easier connection brings a mixed bag of results, since bringing people closer together can lead to unintended consequences.

The identity construction experiment allowed me to see how easier communication can lead to false identity creation. When people do not have to be held to the same degree of honor as they would offline, this can create an opportunity for a person to lie about the kind of person that they actually are. In experiment three, I was told to create a persona that was different from my personal identity. So instead of being a twenty year old Hispanic male, I pretended to be a sixteen year old Asian-American female to another online person (Experiment 3). By using common stereotypes such as being a bad driver and having a strict father, I was able to convince the other person that the Asian identity was in fact who I am. As stated by Charles Chung, I was using Goffman’s concept of “impression management” to give off the identity of someone else (Cheung 312). By allowing two random strangers to chat and perhaps not even be honest about them over Omegle, the Internet allows us to be closer yet also be able to create new lies. Bringing people closer together can do more than allow people to create a false identity; it can also create the unintended consequence of greater access to personal information.

Online privacy has also arisen from the internet as a result of the greater interconnectedness of online information. In week seven’s experiment, for example, I was asked to go through a classmate’s Facebook information and gain as much personal information as I could from them, and  to my surprise, the classmate had so little information compared to the majority of Facebook users that I know (Experiment 7). Yet, even with this little information I was able to gain information on his birthday, hometown, school, and full name. With such little information, one could potentially do a background search on the person to literally know their whole life story. Therefore, one drawback to the internet bringing us closer together is that one’s personal information could be used against oneself, based on a few simple facts from one’s Facebook. There still no real solutions preventing the misuse of personal misinformation, which means that, this greater interconnectedness can be misused on the basis of a few facts.

However, on the positive side, week six’s author allows us to see how more online friends allow one to build up “social capital” (Ellison 1148).  Online networks such as Facebook have allowed me to keep in touch with many people whom I cannot easily see often. By having access to a live feed where everyone’s status updates appear, I have easier access to more people’s lives. Therefore, I have a greater chance of keeping a “maintained social capital” (Ellison 1148). Maintained social capital has been linked to better public health. Therefore, it makes sense that I feel like I have not personally lost friends that I have seen in a while such as high school since the Internet allows me to have easier access and more social capital (Ellison 1145). Thus, while the Internet brings us closer to other people’s personal information, it can also help maintain social capital.

Week ten’s reading allows an interesting analysis of the type of networks that may develop from current social network sites. At the moment, the Internet brings us closer together by allowing us to maintain ties through social network sites. However, what makes this interesting is that we might be able to use social networking sites to influence public life by putting “place awareness and mobility” together (Ellison 8).  For example, we might be able to blur the lines between online and offline interactions by using phones that allow us to see where are friends are by simply looking at one’s phone (Ellison 8). One positive aspect of this is that, if this trend comes true, planning events can have both online and offline aspects to it. Once again, the Internet bringing people closer together has created more efficient ways of getting stuff done by allowing for easier ways of knowing when and where people are.

Looking back at the quarter’s work, the internet bringing people closer together allows a greater degree of  personal freedom in some areas , while at the same time, it decrease personal freedom in other areas. It is not so much a question of if the internet brings us closer as much as it is to what people do with a greater interconnectedness that the internet brings as it evolves. In some positive aspects, yes, we can keep in contact with friends with much less effort, but at the same time, people can misuse our personal information and pretend to be another identity entirely. To say that there is one clear-cut solution to the misuse of identity or personal information would mean risk rolling back on the positives that the internet has brought to us as it has brought us closer. Only time will tell which degree of personal freedom will ultimately prevail.

Works Cited

Cheung, “Identity Construction and Self-Presentation on Personal Homepages” (POR IV, pg. 310-320).

Ellison, N. B., Steinfield, C., & Lampe, C. (2007). The Benefits of Facebook “Friends:” Social Capital and College Students’ Use of Online Social Network Sites. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, (pg. 1145-1148, pg. 1153-1165).

Ellison, N. B., Steinfield, C., & Lampe, C. (2009). Social Network Sites and Society: Current Trends and Future Possibilities. Interactions. (Pg. 6-9)

“Week Three Experiment: Chatting with a Random Stranger Online”

“Week Seven Experiment: Viewing a Classmate’s Facebook”


Week 9:The Internet and Happiness

May 27, 2010

This week’s reading focused on the concepts of what the relationship is between the internet and happiness, and how it influences happiness. The author describes the internet as being a mixed-bag result in terms of what it has done to society. On the positive side, the author describes the internet as having allowed communication with another person to become a lot faster and more efficient. However, at the same time the author states that there is an increasing use of SNS life as a means to fill the void in life that was used to be filled by more closely connected personal relationships. In a way, society is still adjusting to provide the support that people feel has been lost. It was interesting to note how people nowadays are trying to use their online life as a means to portray their inner personality, for example, as cited in the reading, as in Second Life.

This week’s experiment allowed me to see that I have overwhelmingly used the methods online that make me happy than the methods that I used offline to make myself happy. The websites that I used on the day I focused on my online methods, Facebook, Youtube, and Google, I had repeated checked to see if there was any updates on the news, status updates or videos almost every hour. On the day that I spent offline, I interacted with friends that I had not actually contacted in an offline way in a while. Eating lunch together and watching a movie with Ben and Alex allowed me to see that although I may use online methods to communicate with them almost every day, I rarely have face to face contact with them anymore. I guess the answer to this lay with the fact that I have come to see my online ways of staying in touch as equal to my offline, due to the fact, as the author states, that I find SNS a means to make my relationships more in tone with the face-paced life that I have. The cons of the online happiness would appear that I have seemed to have made some friendships less personal, while the pros would be that I have made them more efficient time-wise. Although I come to use my online method to feel the void of happiness, I would say that the offline part of the experiment felt nice in the sense that it was a more personal, face to face contact for a day.

Week 7: Online Privacy

May 13, 2010

This week’s reading dealt with the concepts of online privacy and the paradox in the reality behind online privacy. The author states that we often give out personal information more so than we should, and often find ourselves surprised when we found out that people whom we did not intend to read our online information such as parents or future employers often occur more often than we think. The author highlights the privacy paradox in that on one hand, people will reveal their personal thoughts online, while government agencies are collecting private information about us. The author concludes with the fact that government efforts to protect privacy have not gone far enough to protect potential online misuse of personal information.

In applying the theory from this week’s reading, I was assigned to find out more about a classmate based on the information on Facebook. Seungjae Lee is a 27 year old male from Cheonan, Korea. His birthday is October 8, 1982. He has eight friends on Facebook. He is currently going to UCLA, and is currently living in Los Angeles, California. Seungjae likes to read textbooks. He is looking to use Facebook as a way a means toward networking, dating, and friendship. He has no pictures up, and his latest status update is from a week ago asking “which company has the fastest line in the U.S?” We have two friends in common, Kevin McKenzie and Eric John Kim. Given that he has so few wall posts, he is new to Facebook. Other than his email that is pretty much all the information one can gasp from Seungjae Lee’s Facebook profile.

Week 6: Online Networking

May 6, 2010

This week’s reading and experiment focused on online networking. The week’s experiment consisted of the where I asked a question through my status update on Facebook to see who would reply. I did this once per day over a three day period. The three questions that I asked were: Where “Does anyone know a good place to get a hamburger?”, “Does anyone know a good place to get pizza?”, and “Anyone got any suggestions in how to get a lot of reading done without distractions?” The results were surprising to me in that I got the most replies to the hamburger question, five comments in all, while the pizza question yield zero comments, and the reading question got four comments. I guess that relative easiness of the hamburger question is what caused the most replies, while the reading question got less perhaps to the fact that it requires more than just giving a location as an answer. The lack of answers for pizza may simply have to do with the fact that there are more places that serve hamburgers than do pizzas.

The week’s reading applied to my experiment in that the people who replied either came from offline relationships that I had established firsthand from the UCLA area or from high school friends from back home.  It would appear that Ellison’s finding that people use “Facebook overwhelming to keep in touch with old friends” and “maintain relationships characterized by some form offline connection.” Both replies had about equal amount of replies between my high school friends and UCLA friends, this may signify that both sets of people use Facebook as a means in staying in contact with me, just as I do with them, and that the medium provides a central way to stay connected. By doing something as simple as commenting on another person’s status update, we get the feeling that we can stay in touch even if there is some distance between one other. Thus, we get the feeling that we have more social capital when we have even this small form of online communication.

Week 5: Cyber-Addiction

April 29, 2010

This week’s reading and activity centered on the concepts in how addicted we have become to modern forms of technology such as the internet. Both the week’s reading and the experiment opened my eyes to how addicted, or at the very least, reliant I have become on the internet to do many of the things I take for granted because of the internet. The day I decided not to use the internet, Saturday, made my world a lot more anxious as I felt I had no idea what was happening on my Facebook, or what emails I felt could have been important to answer. One of the many reasons why I felt compelled to keep up with the online information resources is that I have fallen into the habit of using such resources as I have gotten older and have had easier access to the internet.

The author’s application that Americans have used computers to the point where “they will use it as they are told without a whimper” seems to apply to how felt the day I did not use the internet, in that I felt that I had to use it because it was something that society had made me felt necessary to function in today’s world. Postman point that using a medium such as the internet mindlessly, as most Americans do according to him, makes us appear as if the internet has control over us as opposed to us having control over the internet. I can say that to a certain extent, that without access to the internet for a day, it did feel as if the internet had some control over my life. It just takes on day to make me realize that one day away from the internet made me realize that the internet may in fact have more control over my life than I do over it.

Week Four: Online Communities

April 23, 2010

This past week the week’s reading’s focused on how online communities can make us view friendships in a new light. In her piece, Carter Denise explains how the increasing ability of many people to chat and talk about many topics under the guise of something such as cyber city allows a more freeflowing in that the lack of face to face contact allows one to make friendships at a somewhat easier level due to the absence of pre-judgments that one would normally make based on race, gender, class, etc.. As the author puts its it: A more “pure relationship to develop initially.”

My experience with the type of “city-center” forum consisted of a forum based on the US Supreme Court. Politics, and esp this branch of the federal government is one of my favorite interests to talk about.  I started a topic based on the recent news that Justice Stevens is stepping down. My topic was “How would his replacement, most likely to be Kegan, going to affect the court?” The one reply that i have gotten so far suggests that the change most likely will just maintain the current balance. However, just having the trust to let that user write something on my topic, and  in return write back to his thoughts, shows how a simple online forum can bring people who do not even know each other into a sense of knowing each other by their political views, or as the author states, the lack of prejudgments allows us to bond over a simple topic

Week 2 Entry:Facebook Generation

April 9, 2010

This past week, between spending a day updating my Facebook and reading the New York Times article on live news feed, I felt like there was some sort of connection between the conclusion the times article came to and my doing status updates every two hours. I admit that I have become someone who logs into Facebook every other hour when I am not in class, but updating my status update every two hours was something new for me, as I normally only do it once a week. The application of what the Time’s article “ambient awareness” is what I felt by constantly updating my status updates every two hours. In allowing for my online friends to know what I was doing or how I felt, I felt both like I was being informative about my life and being kind of annoying to those that did not want to know what I was doing every second of the day.

Furthermore, the day of updating all day for two days allowed me to see more of the person who I was compared to my online friends who have updated even more often than the day I had to. As weird as it may sound, having know myself  has made me think that I know everything there is about me, yet as the reading suggests, having to think out and what how I felt or what I am doing made me more aware of who I am.  As the author says “It drags you out of your own head.” I guess the day of updating from how I felt about the dry Marx readings for sociology 101 to how excited I felt about finding out that Tina Fey would be doing a Sarah Palin impression just reminded me that I am a guy who still has some time set aside for fun. I always assume that I am in a rush to get work done with almost no free time. It only takes a little bit to remind you that things are not as bad as they seem I guess.

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April 7, 2010

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