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The Closeness Paradox

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With the rise and proliferation of the Internet, many have wondered whether online interaction brings people closer together or pushes them further apart. The Internet grants access to friends and family, regardless of physical barriers such as distance. In addition, many new online communities and enable users to quickly meet up with like-minded people. In a similar fashion, people can easily join a dating site that pairs them up with supposed perfect matches. Still, this online interaction and exposure can have downsides. Cyber addiction and privacy are two major concerns that are associated with Internet usage. Although the Internet brings people closer together through online communities and dating, it can bring people too close, creating addiction and privacy problems.
One of the ways people connect online is through virtual communities. Denise Carter, in her article “Living in Virtual Communities,” analyzed how people interact within online communities. As she discovered, “in fact at least two-thirds of my informants considered either making new friends or meeting friends was their most important reason for living in Cybercity” (Carter 155). Those using the community not only entertained themselves, but they also used the opportunity to expand their friendship networks. One person she interviewed stated the following: “when you meet people online, people you cannot see face to face, you can be more open with them, therefore you learn more about them” (Carter 157). She argued that online relationships are more open because of the fact that nobody can hold any prejudices before meeting you. I tested out these statements when I joined communities based on interest in my car, a Honda S2000. In both of the sites that I joined and posted a question in, I was greeted with over a dozen replies. It was amazing how quickly I was assimilated into the community, and the members of s2000.com even invited me to meet some of them in person for the weekly trip up to the Santa Monica Mountains. The Internet and the advent of virtual communities enabled me to find real life friends quickly and easily based on my interest in the Honda S2000.
Online dating ads have become ubiquitous on television, and for good reason. The industry has expanded greatly in the past decade, and more and more people are trying it out. As discussed in class, the social, demographic, and technological barriers to online dating have fallen. It is now socially acceptable to use these services, and ever more people have access to them with the proliferation of Internet access. As Sautter et al wrote in “The Social Demography of Internet Dating in the United States,” “as a changing population of singles turns to the Internet as a mate selection strategy and tells others about their success, Internet dating may become an increasingly normative path to union formation” (Sautter et al 8). Through several experiments, the authors determined that online dating will continue to expand to new demographics as more cross the digital divide. The discussion in class determined that many people are intrigued by online dating, but are afraid to try it until more people find it acceptable. As time progresses, online dating will become more acceptable, bringing strangers, who would normally have never met, closer together in a relationship.
Even though the Internet can bring people together through online dating and online commu- nities, it sometimes goes too far. Internet addiction and online privacy are two major concerns with the usage of the Internet. The author Neil Postman referred to Huxley’s vision of the future in his chapter “The Huxleyan Warning.” Huxley described a future in which we are surrounded by meaningless entertainment. Some use the Internet in the exact way that Huxley described. In our class survey, nearly everyone turned out to be addicted to the Internet. My classmates spend hours playing meaningless Flash games, browsing web comics, and watching videos of cats on Youtube. In a later class, it turns out that people were less entertained by online activities than online activities, which proves that the case really is an addiction. Why would my classmates spend hours doing online activities they know will not make them as happy as offline ones? It can only be attributed to the warning Huxley gave in his 1932 book Brave New World.
The largest problem with online communities and social networks is privacy. The default setting on the most popular social networking site, Facebook, is to have all one’s profile information available to the public. Most people don’t realize this, however, and leave the settings as default. Advertisers can create targeted ads and learn more about their consumer base with this information. More sinister uses of this information are cyber stalking and identity theft. In our experiment in online privacy, the members of our class viewed each other’s profiles on Facebook and tried to obtain as much information as possible. It is terrifying how much information people reveal in their profiles. Even such innocuous statements as “Trip to the Bahamas! Yeah!!1” can mean that a house will be empty for a week, and anyone who stumbles on this information can burgle the home. One experience of mine is a friend’s underage sister announcing a party when her parents were away. Anyone could see that message, and she was inevitably caught. Still, in her piece “A Privacy Paradox: Social Networking in the United States,” Susan Barnes wrote that “there is a disconnect between the way users say they feel about the privacy settings of their blogs and how they react once they experience unanticipated consequences form a breach of privacy” (Barnes 4). Through a combination of education and new technology, Internet users can become more aware of their privacy, and better utilize settings to keep their private information more secure.
Although the Internet can bring us closer together as a society, proper precaution must be taken in order to avoid addiction and privacy concerns. It is easy to become reliant on the Internet as a source of news and entertainment, but our informal discussions in class showed that most people agree that offline interaction makes them happier. When used with proper caution and awareness, the Internet can be used as a new and exciting way to meet people in the offline world. Online communities and dating have created countless new relationships in the past decade, and this trend will likely continue. Online interaction is an important part of the world today, but everyone needs to be aware of the power of personal information on the Internet.

References

[1] Barnes, Susan B(2006) ’A Privacy Paradox: Social Networking in the United States’ First Monday 4th ser. 11.9: 1 – 16
[2] Carter, Denise(2005) ’Living in virtual communities: an ethnography of human relationships in cyberspace’, Information, Communication & Society, 8: 2, 148 – 167
[3] Sautter, Jessica, Rebecca Tippett, and Philip Morgan(2010) ’The Social Demography of Internet Dating in the United States’ Social Science Quarterly, 2 – 10
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Written by kjtmckenzie

June 4, 2010 at 7:06 am

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Online Happiness

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The goal of this week’s activities was to figure out whether the Internet is making us happier people.  To do this, we were supposed to spend one day trying to be happy doing things that don’t require an Internet connection, and then doing the same thing online.  I spent Tuesday doing most of the physical activities that I enjoy, so I went running, weight lifting, and golfing.  I also spent that night watching the Lost finale with friends.  When the day concluded, I was exhausted, but when I thought about it, it was a fantastic feeling.  I felt like I had become a better person that day, because when I recovered, I would be faster, stronger, and a better golfer.  Not only that, but I enjoyed every minute of it.  In addition, I got to spend valuable time interacting with friends while watching Lost.  It was definitely an entertaining and fulfilling day, and I slept well that night.

On Thursday, I tried to spend the majority of my pleasure activities online.  I still went to the gym, but I also browsed the web (including my favorite website Reddit), watched an online TV show, and played way too much Call of Duty on XBox Live.   Tonight, as I write this post, I don’t feel anywhere near as fulfilled as I did on Tuesday.  It’s late, but I’m not tired.  I don’t feel like I made myself a better person.  Still, I must say that I do feel better about myself in one respect when I go online.  By browsing Reddit, which is a link aggregator, I am able to get the most important news of the day very quickly.  I feel the need to go to the site daily, because it is my major source of news.  It’s like the newspaper to my father.  He can’t go a day without reading at least the front page.  Otherwise we both just feel a bit disconnected from the world.

The article for the week was titled “Happiness and the Internet.”  The author, while clearly not a master writer, made some valid points about people find happiness online.  He speaks of the concept of “flow”, which he defines as “getting lost in a moment, losing track of time.”  He talks about how various people try to find flow online, which can be achieved through the use of SNS, or Social Networking Services.  He explains that by coding, he can achieve flow online, which is oddly similar to me.  I often go online to find new and interesting coding ideas, too.  In conclusion, the author states that the Internet is a method that people can utilize to express themselves and attain “flow.”

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May 28, 2010 at 7:10 am

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Online Dating

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This weeks experiment involved browsing the online dating site Match.com.  The goal was to learn more about the world of online dating.  Registration was quick and easy, and I was soon browsing for potential mates within the Los Angeles area.  After entering a search for women aged 18 – 25, the website returned countless results.  I then refined my search to the body types and education level I’m most attracted to, and my results were limited to 72 matches.  It was scary how this process was so similar to buying a used car.  I then checked out a few profiles and actually found a few intriguing matches.  A girl with the username bluerae22 particularly piqued my interest, so if I ever get exceptionally desperate, Match.com may be a valid option, but I hope I never need to.

The reading for the week also touched on the topic of online dating.  The authors tried to pinpoint the groups of people who actually utilize web dating sites.  These groups were referred to as “at risk” people, because they are “at risk” of using online dating.  This is odd, as it plays into the stereotype of online daters as being particularly desperate.  The authors eventually conclude that it is very difficult to predict who will utilizing the service.  The only good predictor seems to be the amount a person uses the internet in general, with heavy users being more likely to using online dating services.  As more people become connected through the internet, it is clear that online dating will continue to grow as an industry.

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May 21, 2010 at 8:29 am

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Online Privacy

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I had the task of Facebook stalking Angelique Nguyen-Le.  From her profile, I was able to gain quite a bit of knowledge about her.  She is a freshman here at UCLA, and has one full brother, one half brother, and 3 step-sisters.  She’s from Huntington Beach, California, which is also the hometown of my step-brother.  Alternative rock appears to be her favorite music style, and she loves video games as much as I do.  I mastered the art of Pokemon back in elementary school, so I can understand her interest in the games.  She also appears to be the awesome “gamer girl” that every kid on Xbox Live dreams of.

Amongst her other interests are anime and other cartoons, as well as drawing, karaoke, and general browsing of the Interwebs.  She doesn’t have too many photos of herself on her profile.  Rather, she uses the space to showcase anime or those pictures where you tag all your friends depending on whether they are “good”, “evil”, or “hot”, etc.  In all, she seems to be a pretty awesome girl who likes many of the same things I do.

The reading this week documented the problems associated with revealing private information online.  It describes how government agencies and certain companies can amass copious amounts of information from one’s online adventures.  Information posted on Facebook can be used by companies to target ads, but can also be used by predators and other criminals.  To prevent these problems, the responsibility lies with parents, schools, and the social networking sites themselves.  Parents can limit and supervise the time children spend on the Internet.  Schools can teach kids the perils of revealing information online.  Finally, social networking sites can implement privacy filters to prevent private information from spreading to the general public.  Through these three means, information and online social interaction can be a little more secure.

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May 14, 2010 at 7:16 am

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The authors of The Benefits of Facebook Friends concluded that Facebook usage can increase one’s social capital.  By keeping in touch with high school friends and expanding one’s network with acquaintances, one can significantly increase his or her bridging social capital.  This refers to the access of knowledge or help through friends, but does not include the close bonding required for emotional support.  Bonding social capital was generally not expanded with the usage of Facebook, but helped maintain one’s existing social capital.

This week, I tested out these hypotheses by asking for help on Facebook.  I asked two questions that I didn’t know the answer to, as well as asking for general advice on selling books.  After posing the question “Can someone please explain to me why people put ketchup on their eggs? Disgusting!,” I waited for responses.  The only one that came was from one of my ex-girlfriends from high school, who simply said the word “Delicious!”

It was time to ask a different sort of question, so I asked for advice on how to sell my textbooks, because I haven’t sold any of my books over the past four years.  I was actually really hoping someone would give me some good advice, but alas, not a single person responded.  Finally, I posed the question “Does anyone know the cheapest way (other than FM transmitter) to get a stock honda stereo to play MP3s?”  I wasn’t really expecting anyone to give me a great answer, but immediately an old high school friend of mine suggested a few things.  We posted back and forth several times, and I realized I need to buy a new stereo for my car, because mine simply does not have the necessary capabilities.

From my experience with social capital on Facebook, I can generally confirm part of the authors’ hypotheses.  Facebook has certainly expanded my bridging social capital by allowing me to reconnect to old high school friends.  In fact, my high school friends were the only ones to respond to my musings.  Should anything terrible happen to me, I could further verify the authors’ hypotheses by asking for emotional support on Facebook, but I really hope I don’t have to utilize this any time soon.

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May 7, 2010 at 5:12 am

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Internet Dependence

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Huxley warned that society would ultimately fail because we are surrounded by overwhelming amounts of irrelevant entertainment and information.  We will lose interest in our well being as we engage in ever more fruitless forms of entertainment.  In today’s society this irrelevance manifests itself in television and the Internet, and was the focus of the weekly reading.

In his work “Amusing Ourselves to Death,”  Neil Postman argues that television has become the problem that Huxley feared.  He says that the biased and profit-driven media is brainwashing our people, who are too ignorant to question the media’s motives.  Some groups have tried to limit or ban television altogether, but this would never find widespread support in the United States.  And although I completely disagree with him, the author states that the computer is a vastly overrated technology.

Postman offers two solutions to these problems.  The first would be to create a program that educates the public on how to watch TV.  It would describe the problems with the media, but in order to become popular, the program itself would have to use the same attention-grabbing techniques as the shows it tries to parody.  I find that the Daily Show with Jon Stewart and the Colbert Report fit this role quite well, pointing out the flaws in the mainstream media through parody and satire.

The week’s assignment was to avoid the Internet for an entire day.  To be honest, I was looking forward to this assignment, but I think I made it too easy.  Over the past weekend, I went on a snowboarding trip, and decided to not use the Internet then.  I don’t normally use the web while on vacation, so this was nothing new.  Still, it was refreshing to not be tied to my computer, and the vacation gave me a valid excuse to ignore everyone for a day.  I don’t feel as though I am as dependent on the Internet as other people, so I really was not too bothered by this test.  When I limit my Internet usage, I find that I have a lot of extra time on my hands, and lately I have been using this time to do more productive things than look at pointless pictures of cats and such on the Internet.  When I avoid such mundane activities, I find the time to go to the gym and read casually.  Life is simply better when I avoid overusing the Internet.

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April 30, 2010 at 6:24 am

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Virtual Communities

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It took me a while to decide what group I should join.  I have always been a fan of the website Reddit, but I wanted a more specific and close-knit group.  In the end, I decided on joining the forum on the website s2000.com, and I quickly drafted my first post.

Just over a month ago, I bought a Honda s2000, and I have absolutely loved it.  However, I’m still a novice stick-shifter, so I decided a while back to ask for help on Reddit Autos.  I got some reasonable feedback and some good advice on this post.  I decided to repeat my experiment this week on the much more specific forum at s2000.com.  Because it is a much smaller community, I was expecting few responses to my greeting and request for advice.

The first person to respond gave me absolutely no useful information, but was kind enough to welcome me to the site.  That was a nice touch, but not exactly what I had been looking for.  I didn’t receive the next response until a few hours later, but I was surprised by the helpfulness of it.  A member named LTWU gave me several great tips for my car that he had discovered through his own experience with a Honda s2000, so the advice was much appreciated.  In addition, he directed me to his own request for advice when he had joined the group.  I went through this thread and learned some great information, such as which tires would be good for a beginner like me.  LTWU and I then got into a discussion about the color of my car, as we both admired the color Laguna Blue.  I found it amazing that this person could take this amount of time out of his or her day to greet me with such warmth.  Could this be the start of my first online friendship?

The reading this week was closely related to my experiment on the car forums.  The author wrote about the complexity of online friendships and how they differ from normal relationships.  The author argues that online friendships can be just as fulfilling as face to face ones, and that they may even be better in some cases because people are forced to ignore factors like weight, gender, and race.

One important thing the author mentioned was how online friendships can move offline.  I am encountering this as I write.  One of the main topics on the s2000 forum is for a group of s2000 owners who drive through the Santa Monica Mountains every Saturday.   The group has been very friendly, so I will try to meet up with them for the ride.  In this way, several of my online acquaintances may soon become my everyday friends.

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April 23, 2010 at 6:49 am

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