Wednesday, November 13

A MILLIESECOND: _Facebook has changed; friendships haven’t_


“Pics or it didn’t happen,” is generally a joke. But really, if an event happens and there are no photos on Facebook, did it really happen?

Humans have terrible memories. Robots and computers generally have terrific memories.

Documenting and quantifying things help us by giving concrete reassurance, ensuring that whatever we’re doing is optimized.

Numbers and the act of quantifying provide the opaqueness where our flimsy memories only provide a foggy recollection.

Now, with the help of Facebook, all of your friendships are neatly delineated on one page.

Last week, Facebook began introducing its latest feature, “Friendship Pages.” This new option allows you to see all public data between two people on one page, including wall posts, comments, photos, events attended and mutual friends.

“Memory is not entirely voluntary. Things happen, and you just remember it. We often forget things, but Facebook says, “˜You have a record of it here,’” said Benjamin Karney, a professor of social psychology who also studies change and stability in relationships.

Users can view the pages of themselves and a friend, but they can also view any page as long as they are friends with one of the users and have permission to view both profiles.

This feature doesn’t create any new content. Instead, it aggregates and displays existing data in a consolidated way.

Quantifying our relationships in this way can be endearing.

“It gives me a fun and meaningful glimpse of the friendship between two people I know,” Facebook engineer Wayne Kao wrote on the Facebook blog.

I tend to use Facebook more to interact with friends who aren’t immediately accessible in real life.

Facebook allows relationships to transcend geographic and temporal boundaries, said Yunxiang Yan, a professor of anthropology who focuses on social change and development.

“(But) intensive face-to-face interaction may also be required. Both types are necessary in contemporary life,” Yan said.

With Facebook, it’s not strange to have networks of hundreds or maybe thousands of people.

“Facebook allows you to have this huge and complex network, one that used to require you to be a highly active and social person.

Fifty years ago, you’d be famous to have a network like this,” Karney said.

It’s normal to track memories; we’ve all written in a journal at one point or another or have looked through photo albums and scrapbooks. But what happens when this process is automated and aggregated so easily? Does this new way of quantifying friendships change the underlying nature of friendships?

“Did the telephone or printing press change the nature of relationships? No. Not in any profound way. It’s just another highly efficient way of communication. Fundamentally, our need to belong and our desire for companionship remains. Your need for a good friend still remains,” Karney said.

It’s important to note that our friendships ““ yes, offline friendships ““ should be supplemented, not supplanted by our online interactions.

“This might be the first step in forming deeply rooted and longer lasting relationships through commitment. If Facebook helps people escape from commitment, it goes nowhere,” Yan said.

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