By Mallika Soni

Edited by Sanchita Malhotra, Associate Editor, The Indian Economist

In March 1989 Tim Berners- Lee brought out the proposal for a World Wide Web. The World Wide Web expanded exponentially due to Globalisation.

Globalisation was a world phenomenon then and referred to processes of international integration arising from the interchange of world views, products, ideas and other aspects of culture. Marshall McLuhan even introduced the idea of the world being a ‘global village’. Thus Internet and the Social Networking Sites were the by-products of the process of globalisation and emerged as effective means of communication and bringing the world together. But at the same time as the internet seems to be erasing national boundaries, it is also bringing “national” diasporas closer together. It may be said that due to the loss of physical contact the imagined diasporas formed over the internet are even stronger, more visual and clearly imagined.

A simple definition of Social Networking Sites would be a term broadly used to refer to Web sites that enable users to articulate a network of connections of people with whom they wish to share access to profile information, news, status updates, comments, photos, or other forms of content. However this term is fast evolving in the modern day context. In the essay, ‘Sociality through Social Network Sites’ Nicole B. Ellison and Danah Boyd assert three features of the Social Networking Sites:

1) a user‐constructed public or semi‐public profile

2) a set of connections to other users within

the system, and

3) the ability to view one’s own list of connections, as well the connections made by others in the system .

Social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, etc have almost become ‘our daily bread’. Physical spaces are limited by space and time, but, online, people can connect to one another across great distances and engage with asynchronously produced content over extended periods. This allows people to work around physical barriers to interaction and reduces the cost of interacting with people in far-off places. As Howard Rheingold put it once that “people in virtual communities do just about everything people do in real life, but we leave our bodies behind”.

Social Networking Sites have often been a genre of ‘networked publics’ by most of the scholars. Networked publics are publics that are restructured by networked technologies. So they are both ‘imagined’ spaces as a collection of people constructed by the technologies and by the ‘imagined’ collective that emerges as a result of the intersection of people, technology and practice.

The word public here would mean ,as “Livingston” defines it “as a collection of people who share a common understanding of the world, a shared identity, a claim to inclusiveness, a consensus regarding the collective interest.”

The basic function of the Social Networking Sites is that it allows people to come together and connect to each other and this is mostly done in a specific pattern or maneuver that may be entirely based on cultural, social and civic purposes while facilitating better communication. The idea here is that one is not just connected to the social networking sites but is constantly transformed by them. Thus it means that these sites have the ability to bring change.

Feminist Scholar Nancy Fraser argues that publics are not only a sites of discourse and opinion but “arenas for the formation and enactment of social identities”. If it is about the social identity then the identity will help to create an ‘imagined’ space and thus sections on a popular site like facebook as ‘likes’ helps to create such a kind of space.

Looking at this more deeply there are many such instruments that one may find on a social networking site that helps to create the ‘space’.

Friend lists: They limit people from viewing the profile. Also most of the people are friends with mere aquaintances, thus the relationships that are shown on a person’s profile may not be the actual idea the person has about all his so called ‘friends’. This brings out the notion of the imagined space. Also a person may not be able to meet all his friends or may never meet a few of them ever in his life. Most of the people thus imagine an audience that is usually more constrained by who they wish to reach and are always worried about how to present themselves(selfies an example).

Comments: Through such a section the participants actually acknowlege each other in the public as if doing a performance for the audience.

Profile: it limits one to the selected few who post and comment on the profile activities of a person.

Some broad points can thereby be observed. The first is the all-encompassing nature of the Social Networking sites; the way they bring all these people together who barely know anything about each other but may just share the same views or ideas(or may not).

The second point may be called the performative aspect of social media.

The third and the most important point of the argument is the fact that one may not be actually able to meet all the friends that he has. That means one is conscious of the fact that they are there (by the way of posts) but may not meet all of them.

Analyzing media’s effect, Joshua Meyrowitz articulated that “the properties of media change social environments and, thus, influence people and their behavior. ” This exactly applies to the social media whuch influences the behaviour and brings them together via its own ‘tools’ for better conversation.

Thus, all of us today seem to have two lives, an online one and an offline one.

Posted by The Indian Economist | For the Curious Mind