Thursday, 15 April 2010

Offline vs. Online Communities

I have seen a lot of articles discussing the revolutionary social media, what a great invention it is and how enthusiastic are people about it. Thus, I decided to write about the downsides of Facebook, focusing on the impact on our personal lives, because I think that social media, in general, is sometimes overrated.

I am not a hypocrite, as I myself am using Facebook. Of course, it has its advantages. For me, personally, it is an easy way to find out what my friends from home are doing, as I’m studying abroad. Still, I’m not sure about this, because I can see what they are doing, through pictures, statuses etc., but I can’t find about everything, personal experiences that don’t go on Facebook, and I still have to have personal discussions with them. And after all, that is what makes a friend, sharing good and bad experiences, advices etc. So, for the sake of facebook, let’s say that is a quick update of friends’ condition. In academic terms, it is maintenance of social capital created in my previous offline community. Here is an article discussing the relationship between social capital and Facebook.

But what happens when it is overused? What happens with the people that have problems with face-to-face communication? They start using this network and have the false impression that they are socializing. But then, I told myself that maybe I have a false impression of what socializing means. So I looked in the dictionary for the word 'socialize' – to mix socially with others in a friendly way. So far, it makes sense. But mixing socially means creating a society, in this case a virtual society. So, I looked in the dictionary for the word ‘society’ – a system in which people live together in organized communities. Ok, ‘communities’ is fine, we are creating online communities with shared ideas, values etc. But what are we doing with ‘live’? Is that how we want to LIVE, in front of a computer? Because another definition of society is ‘a community of people living in a PARTICULAR COUNTRY OR REGION and having shared customs, laws, organizations etc.’ What happens if I want to have a drink with my friend on Facebook? I know, I am sending him a round. And I know he will feel the taste just by clicking ‘Accept’. Here is an episode of South Park that I found very funny and interesting in explaining in an exaggerated way this downside.

In the end, we have to create a balance in our lives between being members of offline and online communities, and I am afraid that some people cannot manage that. Thinking about this, I remembered a friend telling me about someone owning a successful online business, making 10.000 euros a day. But his life meant being in front of a computer from the moment he woke up until he got back to sleep. He did have a wife and children, but he made them ‘happy’ by giving them money to do what they want. I wonder when he had time to make those children.


  1. The whole concept of being Facebook ‘friends’ with someone is interesting. It can often be the case that you never really communicate with the entirety of your online friends networks and allowing them to have access to pictures, status updates and wall-to-wall conversations with others grants them access to things you necessarily wouldn’t share if you spoke to them on a one-to-one basis.

    There is no questioning that in some cases face-to-face communication works better than online communication. However I would argue that online communication, especially via social networking sites can be beneficial to public relations organizations. It is no longer relevant to talk about online and digital media being ‘new’ as the majority of organizations having a website, Facebook page, Twitter account.

    As I mentioned in my blog post this week, it is not enough for companies to occasionally blog, Facebook or tweet, social media is a communicative tool that must be used on a continuous basis in order to be effective. I strongly believe that social media is an effective platform for PR and is a great way to generate interest in products or services at no great cost to the company.

    My dissertation topic looks at the role of organizational blogs in PR companies, to date most of the research carried out has supported the hypothesis that customers can relate better to the informal and conversational communicative tone of blogs than official statements posted by the companies. This would suggest that while online communication is still not entirely suitable for all types of communicative situations, the PR industry shows no sign of lessening its usage of this medium.

  2. I agree that there is definitely a downside to social networking! Many of my friends have either expressed that they want to delete their accounts or have done, only to reactive a couple of days later. It's addictive! Even though you don't (or shouldn't!) really be interested in what that guy who you had a class with 2 years ago and actually spoke to all of 2 times is eating/watching/moaning about that day, I still find myself logging on to read through the updates of the day, often before even checking the real world news even. It's sad! Friends of mine who I admire the most are not on facebook. I wish I was only that cool!

    It also completely freaks me out that potential future employers will be able to check me out this way, even if I manage to finally delete my account?!?

    I am still undecided if social media can aid in PR campaigns focused on brands or products but I do definitely see how it is helping cause related campaigns to mobilise the public.

    Hehe, thanks for the South Park link!

  3. I agree with many of your points Andra, as well as what JP Charles says about its required use in the PR realm. I think this brings the discussion back to the categories of intrapersonal, interpersonal, group, institutional/organisational, and society-wide levels of communication.
    As I too have openly expressed in my blogs and discussions, I sincerely detest the pressure to use online social media for interpersonal use with friends and family, and have succeeded in avoiding this and social media tools such as Facebook. However, on an organisational & society-wide level, I instinctively know it is a necessity for both organisational survival (and my own self-preservation in PR), as well as not being left behind on a societal level as well - in particular with the current inequities reinforced and only further encouraged I would say, with the advent of social media tools.

  4. When the mobile phone phenomenon began and young people were beginning to buy into them, I remember my mom saying to me that it will ruin my friendships, as instead of walking 5 minutes to my friends house, I would call or simply text her. To this day it infuriates my mom when I text her. She cannot understand why I would text someone instead of picking up the phone (her views have slightly changed) or go and see the person.
    I don’t know if it’s because I have grown up since then or because with the introduction of social networking, the whole face-to-face communication situation has become in a way ‘vintage’. But I agree with her.
    I still actively participate in all forms of online communication. I agree with your blog in that Facebook’s positives are emphasised everywhere and yet nowhere, no-one is willing to say that it is stunting our personal relationships and face-to-face communication skills.
    For centuries people have analysed people’s body language in certain situation, today it will be studied how fast a person types a response. Although it does have its positives I prefer seeing people in front of me. Without a webcam.