Studying Media for almost five years, and working in Digital Marketing industry for nearly two, has made me very aware of the significance of social networking in the post-digital era, when being connected 24/7 became a reality. Having equal interest in digital media and cultural studies, in my final project I wanted to explore the relation between the use of technology (social networking services such as Facebook) and its influence on how we conduct our everyday life.
Setting up my own networking group and building a website was a first step. It is just a beginning of a bigger project, which could not have been fully represented due to time limitations. Wanting to further explore the phenomenon of digital social networks from a more theoretical angle, I have decided to investigate different ways of “breaking them down”. I wanted to create visual representations of what is usually hidden behind complicated algorithms – the maps of connections. What is fascinating and worth noticing, is that all the digital dots and nodes, are not just abstract shapes on the screen, but complex representations of real-life human relationships.
The relations between technology and culture, as well as arising significance and influence of digital networking, has been highlighted by Manuel Castells (2000), who was one of the first ones to coin the term of a “network society”. Although social networks have served the purpose of social organisation for centuries, he argues, the development of technology and mobile devices has changed the social structures so that now they are organised around electronically processed information.
For Jan van Dijk (1991), who has been exploring the phenomenon of “network society” along with Castells, it is a form of society, which builds digital networks that gradually replace face-to-face communication. His approach has roots in technological determinism, which presumes that technology is powerful enough to influence, or even restructure, whole cultures and societies.
Setting up my own digital networking group has made me think of different ways of attracting new members and communicating with the existing ones. I started with exploring the phenomenon of “virtual communities”, first described by Howard Rheingold (2000). According to the theorist, a virtual community is a special kind of social network, whose members interact through digital media in order to engage into mutual interests or goals. Virtual communities tend to gather around and communicate through specific channels such as chat rooms, social networks (e.g. Facebook) or virtual worlds (e.g. Second Life).
My goal was not only to understand what virtual communities and digital social networks are, but also what influence they have on our everyday life. I found Turkle’s (2011) book “Alone Together” particularly useful as it discusses how technologies are affecting modern societies. Turkle notes how convenience of digital communication has become a threat to real interpersonal relationships.
Many academics focus on the argument that digital communication is replacing face-to-face interactions. Although true in many cases, through my project I will try to show that digital media can be the opposite – connect people through social networks and help them to maintain their relationship in “real life”.
– Castells, M. (2000). The rise of the network society. Oxford : Blackwell 2000, 2nd ed.
– Dijk, J. (1991). Network Society, Social Aspects of the New Media. London : SAGE, 2006, 2nd ed.
– Rheingold, H. (2000). The Virtual Community: Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier. London: MIT Press.
– Turkle, S. (2011). Alone together: why we expect more from technology and less from each other. New York : Basic Books.
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