Friday, September 26, 2008

How Does Social Media Affect Our Romantic Relationships?

I recently visited my friend Laura who lives in San Francisco. I brought my camera and tripod so I could record an interview / conversation with her about how she interacts with Social Media in her job. She currently works in SEO for myspace in SF.

It's been a while since Laura and I hung out. When I got there, I was introduced to her roomates, friends and the layout of her new apartment. Laura, her roomates/friends and I were talking about what we do for work and started into a conversation about how Social Media has changed the dynamic of our romantic relationships. 

I decided to set up the camera and aimed it at the table where four of us were sitting enjoying a fine snack of wine and cheese. (This is seriously uncharacteristic of a snack I commonly have. I think residents of the marina district don't grab Heffeweisen and almonds for things to snack on.) In my haste, I recorded the visual, but didn't set up the microphone correctly. Which really is a crying shame because the conversation was awesome.

I'll try to recap a lot of the topics here. Feel free to jump in with your own insights. I'd love to hear your opinion.

  • Facebook has presented a lot of interesting interactions with some of the girls and people they have dated. One girl, Shannon, was un-aware that her now-boyfriend was making any sort of advancement. There was not a proper "asking out" as she was accustomed to. When they had first met at a mutual friend's party, they both didn't speak to one another. He sought her out after the party in hopes of making a connection. He asked her, via-Facebook, if she wanted to grab coffee since they both worked close by to one another. Shannon expressed how confusing it was for her because there was no way to register where he was coming from. Everything was done electronically, and the informality of it all made it seem as if they were just buddies. She said it took her about 4 "dates" before she ever realized that he had been interested in her all along.
  • All of us agree that it feels "safer" for us to give out our email address or way to find us on Facebook or Myspace. The fact that we don't have to participate in a verbal exchange via the telephone provides an extra layer of comfort. I asked if the girls were approached in public and asked for their phone numbers vs. their email address which would they be more likely to give out. All of them said they wouldn't give out their phone number until way later in the correspondence.
  • The issue of "status" changes came up. This partially relates to the "Tawnee is cleaning her room" status update (which isn't true, although I should clean my room),  but it primarily rests on the relationship status update. When one visits their home screen on Facebook it is listed as "Billy has changed his relationship status to *Complicated*" Conversations that once took place between a couple regarding "taking this relationship to a more committed and exclusive level" is administered by pulling a drop down menu and asking for a confirmation. For those of us who still have our ex's as "friends" on Facebook, we can see when they date new people or when they break up. This level of involvement is heavy and completely new for the lot of us. I assume that a lot of our post-breakup hang ups come from the level of visibility we have surrounding our past partners. It is not typical for us to know what they ate for breakfast, see all their pictures from their recent trip to the beach, and have the option of staring at their new love interest. 
  • There is an understanding that our profiles may not accurately portray our identity. All profiles are the best version of one's self, true. But profiles also assume that other people have a general idea of you are to begin with. We talked about instances when people get to know your profile before they ever get to know you. Sometimes it is an unfair advantage, because they know they already know what interests you both have in common, and are able to highlight those factors and shadow others. This is not to say that this is a scheme; somewhere there is a person in a dimly lit room skimming through your Facebook profile writing down all the ways to lure you into their grasp. You two will go out to dinner and talk about the things you love and you will be misled, only to one day find out that your love was a ruse and your heart is now meticulously broken. No, not the case. That is not the point I am trying to make. If you met somebody you found attractive and they were wearing a shirt of a band you like, it would be a great segway into a conversation. These type of coincidences happen naturally. But there seems to be a bit of the novelty stripped when your favorite books, tv shows, music, and movies are listed. The treasure hunt isn't so much a search anymore. It's more like knowing the presents are on the top shelf, so you get a step stool. In some cases, mine in-particular, people assume that being introduced to my music and my photography means that they know me. They talk to me as if they have known me a long time, so the initial introduction is awkward.
  • The girls agreed that introducing a person to their profile changed the dynamic of face to face interaction. They noticed a difference in the tone of the messages, they were more flirtatious, more direct, and more familiar than if the girls had just met the person face to face. 
Again, it's easy to realize that our social interactions are changing. But for some of us, it's hard to come to terms that the old ways of communicating and interacting (or what are the "old ways" for our generation) are fading.

More on this later... I have to go sell my old car. 

[24 hours later]

OK,  I sold my old Explorer successfully. It is still baffling to me that I can post a few pictures and specs on Craigslist and have over 20 people respond in a matter of hours. I had two people competing for the truck... this in a time where gas prices are astronomical. I was under the impression that SUVs are a thing of the past. I mean, I opted out of having it, right? I digress somewhat, although the topic is still within the scope of social media. Because of the advances in social media and online networking, a process that could have otherwise taken me weeks to accomplish took me a mere 6 hours from start to finish. I am so thrilled to not have to worry about that anymore.

 Back to our topic, where were we?

Ah yes. One of the questions I asked the girls, and I'd like to ask you now, is how would removing social media from your relationship change the dynamic you and your partner share? What if we all did a social experiment. We asked our partners, best friends, parents or whoever else we correspond most with via text messaging, Facebook, myspace, etc. to not contact us by those means. The rules are that you can only converse by ways of regular telephone calls and face to face interaction. Considering my best friend and I text non-stop throughout the day (she is in grad school at USC and I am typically busy at work) our conversations would go from massive to nearly non-existent. I wouldn't be able to see her photos from her weekend adventures on Facebook, and wouldn't hear hilarious anecdotes about her escapades about LA. I am not a big phone-talker; texting is so much more efficient and tangible. I don't have to be concerned about lulls in the conversation. My point is always made. If I receive a text I find sweet or entertaining, I can save it. 

I adore the advancements in social media, but I also recognize how it may prove to be detrimental down the line. We have not scratched the surface of what social media has to offer. It will eventually explode, and like a mushroom cloud, will encapsulate all of us and all of our interactions, whether it be personal or business. Right now we are on the cusp of a transition. We still have the "old" ways of communicating (it seems so funny to call the telephone and "old way" of communication) and they are still prevalent and present, but they are interspersed with new social networking.

As we slip further away from traditional communication, I wonder how this will change our instincts, how it will shape the dynamics of our personal relationships, how it will alter the way we speak and think. 

I am not hesitant when it comes to adopting new social media techniques, I just hope I don't get so lost in the process that I loose my ability to recognize the change.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Starting a New Trend...

I had an opportunity to sit down with Steve Hanna on Thursday. Typically we chat on-camera for J-Net. This time, Steve agreed to chat with me in front of my own video camera.

We started talking about his new full-encrypted hard drive for his computer. The reason why this new "toy" of his is so important, is due to it's ability to protect all the data on his computer. Steve does a lot of traveling. He shares some staggering statistics about how many laptops are stolen per week in airports across the US. Apparently, it has become a trendy scam to steal laptops while people are going through airport security.

Check it out...

After Steve shared some information on laptop safety, I asked him a few questions about how Social Media (blogs, web video, etc) has changed the dynamic of how he works.

Hopefully you enjoy it. I had a great time with this particular interview. Stay tuned for more like it...

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Taking a step back to get a step ahead

When I was car shopping earlier this year I noticed that any time I mentally decided on a car, I would start to see it everywhere. I would go through phases where I was committed to a VW GTI, a Scion tC, Honda Civic si, Mazda RX8, the list is endless really. I would research the cars on auto blogs, Consumer Reports, and YouTube. No sooner after the research begin, those cars would be everywhere on the road. I would park next to them at the grocery store, be stopped next to them at a red light, be cut off by one on the highway. 

I am experiencing a similar thing right now with social media. There is a theme that is happening in the blogging sphere revolving around social media dependency. refers to it as "digital media intimacy". I rather enjoy that title.

JD Lasica makes a good point about how status updates taken one by one can seem a bit trite and inane. When captured over a long period of time, these updates can give a significant insight into friends' lives. He notes how "little snippets coalesce into a surprisingly sophisticated portrait of your friends' and family member's lives, like thousands of dots making a pointillist painting."

I suppose that relying on the "big picture" approach can seem a bit cliche, but it has a point. I am guilty of constantly living in a state that revolves around micro-updating, micro-analyzing, micro-digetizing. True clarity tends to be found only when one steps back from that "micro" default position. Switching between micro-blogging and actual blogging/journaling is a significant feat for me. I have to transition my mind from being compulsively stucatto and (attempt) to find a way to create a well-strucutred flow. Like I said before, discussions about social media can't be designated into "good" or "bad" catagories. Stepping back and taking a look at the "big picture" is important, but only if it includes the up-close smaller picture as well. 

Twitter has done many a thing for me (besides hooking me). It has allowed me to learn things about 'strangers' that I would never thing to ask best friends. I have twotwitter friends who come to mind right off the bat. I met one of them here at Juniper. We hired a company to help us with our persona process (a topic for a future blog) and I gave her a ride up to SF after our two day session was through. We had the hour drive to talk and get to know eachother somewhat, but it was in no way an in-depth friendship. Twitter has allowed me to know how her days are going, how the weather in Seattle is, what technology she is interested in. I get to hear what comments were passed her way on transit to and from work, and see Flickr updates when she changes her haircut. Now, I feel like I know her well. I care as much about her as I do my friends I see at work every day.  

Another twitter friend and I met at a conference in LA. Our love for music, cars and high-tech gadgetry was an instant bond. Twitter has allowed me to expand a significiant friendship from that point forward. It is doubtful I would have communicated with him through e-mail because it seems like a bit too much of a comitment to a person I dont technically know. I would never pick up the phone to call him. I hardly do that with friends I have known all my life. But I am still able to grasp the important parts of his life. 

Since micro-blogging comes from what the individual finds most important, it provides a different form of insight. There is a particular quality behind the reasons for the post. The dialogue is so uncharacteristic of anything that would ever happen organically face to face. It would be like taking a walk with a friend where you never exchanged words with one another, you just commented about things that were relevant to you at that moment. 

"Just tripped on uneven pavement, so glad no one was around to catch that."
"Looks like traffic is impossible again. Herds of soccer moms shuffling kids, I'm sure."

That style of dialogue doesnt exist outside of the blogging-sphere. It is because of this, that I have a fondness for it. Even though it isn't particulary natural, it shows a different angle of a person, which is exactly what I hunt for on the day-to-day.

My best friend and I talk every day. We IM, facebook message, text message enough to blow up the airways, and every so often call eachother when the other mediums just wont suffice. Even though I know nearly everything about her life and have up to the minute updates via text message, I still encourage her to join twitter or blog because her voice would come acrossed so differently. I would love to see how she chooses to convey herself in the micro (or macro) blogging sphere.

I'll keep my eyes posted for more material on this phenomenon. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

The Solution is coming

Big news coming...we're solving a huge problem. The network is growing: getting bigger and faster. The solution is coming. Sept 15, 2008 --

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Undistinguishable, but never unreachable

After writing my first post about all my social media accounts, I started wondering if it was a good thing how dependent I am on social media interaction.

These days everyone is connected at all times. I read somewhere (I wish I remember where) that when people were asked what they would not leave home without, more people said they would choose to take their cell phone over their wallet. My initial reaction was disbelief, but then I thought back to those times I was just meeting friends for a second down town, or if someone else was driving, or if I had to drop some things off at the post office. I never took my wallet. I always had my phone.

If you are a people watcher, like I am, you will notice that people can't stand to be alone anymore. If someone is waiting to meet a friend at a cafe or in front of a movie theatre, they are always texting or chatting on their phone. I am guilty of this as well. I get nervous with nothing to do and frantically start checking twitter or texting friends with updates about what I am doing. 

Humans are technically pack-animals. We started off living in groups and gradually, as technology became more prominent, we broke apart and began living independently. Technology is amazing in the way that it allows us to communicate quickly and stay informed. But I wonder how often my friends need to know that I saw humorous graffiti in a concert venue bathroom or that I have a desire for Mexican food for lunch. 

The answer is not black or white. There is no ability to say that relying on social media is bad or good. Sure, my tweets may be completely inane and irrelevant at times, but social media allows for the world to virtually exist in one place. When the tsunami hit in China, twitter was one of the first ways that people across the world heard it. Granted, the volume of tweets did shut down twitter for a bit, but the message was heard. Social media allows for instantaneous communication between people who would otherwise never come in contact with one another.

These statements are more than likely not news to you. Everyone understands the point to Facebook, Myspace and Twitter. We understand the novelty of Digg and Slashdot. Are there changes that you recognize in yourself that have manifested only after your dedication to social media?

A friend and I were chatting on IM the other day about how taking a business trip has changed since he was a kid. He reflected that when his father went on business trips his family had to call the main desk at the hotel to leave a message if they wanted to get in touch with him. Now, my friend has multiple ways of being contacted: e-mail, SMS text, IM, Twitter, Facebook updates. It is nearly impossible to shut off technology and literally be alone.

Having a cell battery die is commonly cause for a minor panic attack. I fear that the moment my battery dies, I will get into an alarmingly bad car accident and have no recollection of friends or family member's phone numbers.  The cause for lack of memory, isn't head-trauma however, it's my incapacitating dependency on my phone's address book. I wonder if that sort of dependency is, perhaps, a tad unhealthy.

When I was in school, we were encouraged to use mental math instead of a calculator [why use your mind when a machine is so much more accurate though? :)] because "relying on technology makes the mind lazy." I see the relevance of that statement. Thank goodness my parents haven't changed phone numbers in my lifetime. If there does happen to be some emergency, I already programmed those numbers into my mind's address book prior to ever having a cell phone. Those numbers are with me for life.

What's you're take on all of this? Would you say you are one of those people who has to text in the moment of waiting, or do you still look up and watch life going on around you? Would you prefer to have a conversation over IM instead of on the phone? (ahem, I do too) Do you feel life was sweeter prior to your dependency to social media?

I feel as if I have set this up as some social media addicts anonymous space. Perhaps I have a compulsion for social media, but I am not quite ready to profess that it is a "problem". 

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

First things first: let's get to know one another...

I have a long list of things to do, and on it was create a quasi-professional blog that is entirely public facing. I work at Juniper Networks in Sunnyvale for the web team. I do a series of videos/vlogs for J-Net, which is the forums/communities for Juniper. In them I get to announce new features happening on J-Net or interview interesting people in the tech industry as well as key users within the community.

In a meeting earlier today, a co-worker reitterated the fact that social media is typically generational. It got me to thinking about how I have basically tapped into every avenue of social media.

Social media sites I belong to: LiveJournal, Blogger, YouTube, Myspace, Facebook, Digg, Twitter(2 accounts), PhotoBucket, Flickr, StumbleUpon, FriendFeed, Yelp... I used to be a member of friendster but that got to be a bit much. :)

I am always eager to learn new technology, and try to get others as hooked as I am. I'm not sure if that's because I love to spread the good word, or because I typically like other people to connect to. I think it's a bit of both but more of the latter.

My RSS feed and Twitter are two of my favorite online quick hits. I am hoping to eventually make myself a shirt that says "I twitter in bed" -- seemingly provocative but still true.

A bit of back story... [and possibly gloating]

I graduated from UC Berkeley where I wrote my own major. The long of it: "ISF (Interdisciplinary Studies Field Major) - Intercultural Studies of Visual Images and Representation". The short of it: I studied the way cultures receive media. Mass Comm and other such marketing majors seemed to have an approach to media that didn't sit right with me. Mass marketing has set formulas that ignore cultural and social cues. It's all so impersonal and impractical really. I mean, it works... it definitely works. But it ignores so much about people and their history and traditions. I have more to say on this topic, obviously, seeing as how I wrote a massive thesis about it. The point of this particular side-bar is to illuminate the fact that I decided to study individual cultures, and the history behind their particular reception of media and portrayal in media. The reason why this job is so perfect is that it constantly allows me the opportunity to get to know individuals. It also allows me to investigate the trends of "users" on our own site.

The best part about the interviews are the moments that happen off-camera. We have small chats about things that aren't business, they are charming insights into each person. They are the reasons why they love their job, tales about their families, places traveled, highlights as to what technology they find most interesting in their day-to-day life. I love hearing these bits because it shows what people are behind this industry.

Doubtful I would have told you that I was going to be in the tech industry post-college. I figured I would be a rock star, an acrobat in Cirque de Soleil, or perhaps a helicopter pilot for a logging company. Instead, I work for a fairly large company. I have a cubicle that is riddled with word of the day calendars and airplane toys. I go to "important" meetings. I take notes. I buy pencil skirts and listen in to conference calls.

Sometimes I feel like I'm conducting my own experiment. And perhaps I am. I am learning what it is like to experience corporate society. But I still feel like I have a different impulse when it comes to the day-to-day. I want to know why everyone shows up in the morning, what their experiences are, why they were initially so passionate about the industry--and if their passion has shifted. The technology is remarkable and innovative, but it is only as good as the minds behind it.

I expect to outline my own adventures in social media, the people using it, the trends that come of it, and the industry it surrounds.

I encourage any conversation you may want to add. Are you a J-Net member? Introduce yourself. Not a J-Net member? Still introduce yourself, and maybe afterwards puruse our forums anyway just to get a look at what I do and see what I am so passionate about.

Pleased to meet you, I look forward to what happens next.