There is an interesting article in the NYTimes on sociologists using facebook for data. None other than one of the nominees for “best of 2007” Nicholas Christakis.
A few things strike me as interesting. First, they’re using Simmel, “triadic closure” thesis – whether your friends are also friends. Go Simmel! He’s been primed for a comeback for years now. Soon, lots of papers on sociability. Later, sociologists challenge economics with The Philosophy of Money (and fail). But back to traidic closure…
As the Times reports, “If this seems trivial, consider that a study in 2004 in The American Journal of Public Health suggested that adolescent girls who are socially isolated and whose friends are not friends with one another experienced more suicidal thoughts. “Triadic closure was first described by Simmel 100 years ago,” Dr. Christakis said. “He just theorizes about it 100 years ago, but he didn’t have the data. Now we can engage that data.””
The research that Christakis and his team are doing is to “study how personal tastes, habits and values affect the formation of social relationships (and how social relationships affect tastes, habits and values)”. I think this could be a really fascinating project. Perhaps a new, “best of…” even. But I as a user of facebook (as others on this blog are) I wonder about the different relationship strategies that folks pursue online.
One fairly simple example would be that online I seek to maximize the number of friends and contacts I have. I’m fairly ambivalent to who becomes my friend and I end up engaging with folks who I wouldn’t engage with inter-personally. In real life I’m too busy. I tend not to want to meet new people. Yes, yes, this sounds arrogant and awful. But it’s true. I barely have time for the friends I have, I’m already fairly overwhelmed. I don’t need more people to interact with. So my strategy – if you can call it that – is to try and maintain and strengthen existing ties. In the former instance, I’m concerned with status. How many friends I have and folks I have consistently thinking about me marks how desirable I am. In the latter instance I’m concerned with my own sanity. Maintaining relationships that keep me from jumping off the deep end.
I hope they they up some ideas on folks “virtually” market themselves. Looking at my students on facebook it’s interesting how many of them use the website for finding casual sex (“random play” is a popular identification for what folks are looking for – or more popular that I thought it would be).
It’s also nice to see that Christakis is among the legions of Mac users.