Competing networking sites changing the face of social interaction

Spinnaker

Lindsey Stepkin logs into her Facebook profile and immediately checks for notifications. She has an event invitation to a friend’s birthday celebration. She confirms she will attend, and writes a comment, “You know I wouldn’t miss it!” She scans a few wall posts, responds to four and reminds herself to respond to others later.

She comments on five or six more of the photos before going back to her home page. She checks once more for notifications before closing Facebook. By now, 30 minutes have gone by.

Stepkin, a sophomore biology major, is one of more than 100 million active users of Facebook. There are more than 110 million users on Myspace.

On Facebook, the fastest growing demographic is that of users in their early 20s. Similarly, 85 percent of Myspace users are 18 or older, according to comScore, an online analysis and statistics company.

It is clear with these kinds of figures, college students fall right into the mold of the typical Facebook or Myspace user. Most students will visit the Facebook or Myspace sites at least once a day and sometimes several times per day.

Stepkin, an avid user of Facebook, said she usually logs into her page two or three times a day, spending about two hours on it.

“It’s the main way I stay in contact with my friends,” Stepkin said. “We all have such crazy schedules, with class and all, it makes it easier.”

Facebook is the most visited social media site in the world, with Myspace not too far behind, according to comScore. Facebook is also the fourth most trafficked site, in general, in the world.

With this drastic growth in the popularity of Facebook and Myspace, one has to wonder, are social networking sites like these changing the way people interact? Are they also reducing how much time students spend with their friends face-to-face?

“It’s easier to get the full effect of a conversation,” said senior finance Cameron Allen about talking in person versus social networking sites.

Allen lives with a few close friends and sees others in classes, but he said he tries to spend a good deal of time with his friends in social settings.

Ashley Manuel, a senior international studies major, loves facial expressions. She also prefers to talk with her friends in person to see their reactions and hear the changes in their voice, even though she does spend an hour to an hour and a half on Facebook every day, she said.

UNF psychology professor Dr. Minor Chamblin believes some of the recent popularity in social networking sites such as Myspace and Facebook is due to the convenience, he said. By using these sites, people are able to reveal as much or as little information as they want to about themselves and even fabricate some. The user is in control.

Although the popularity of these sites has grown increasingly, people are also underestimating how much is lost without that person-to-person contact, Chamblin said. A lot can be interpreted and understood through nonverbal communication such as eye contact and body language.

These social networking sites are changing the way people communicate and interact with one another, but they can also serve as a useful tool. Some students find it easier to remind friends of events by using the messaging systems on the sites.

“When dealing with specific dates, I like to use Facebook messages so that the text can be referenced later,” said junior nursing major Rachel Marsh.

Many students have also found that Facebook and Myspace prove very useful when keeping in contact with long distance friends.

David Livermore, a senior economics major, thinks these social networking sites make it a lot easier to communicate with friends that live in different cities, he said.

Livermore also mentioned how the sites are becoming today’s grapevine.

“People will tell me ‘did you hear that so and so is dating someone,’” Livermore said. “And when I ask how they found out, they will say Facebook told them.”

With the number of users for Facebook and Myspace growing at an accelerated rate, there could be an even more significant change in the communication methods of students, and people in general.

“‘It’s not official until it’s on Facebook,’ isn’t a joke anymore,” Manuel said, “It’s almost reality.”

E-mail Stacie Liwen at [email protected]