Apr 12, 2010 Comments Off
This week’s readings looked at the use of the Internet by teenagers and young adults. The article “Web hit touches a chord with anorexics” describes the impact that the song “Sophie” had on many individuals struggling with eating disorders. A short film called “My Story”, which showcased an individual’s struggle with anorexia, used the song as background music to the pictures, adding a new emotional dimension to the clip. The popularity of the song online is indicative of the power that comes with the ability to use multimedia sources in a virtual production. The video would not have had its emotional depth without the inclusion of the song. The combination of lyrics, music, and visuals came together to evoke a strong emotional response in the viewer, reflecting much of the pain that comes with an eating disorder. The powerful capability of the Internet to create works that leave a lasting impression on their audiences is becoming more and more commonplace in today’s society as individuals rely on multimedia sources for both professional and recreational productions.
The article by Livingstone looks at the use of social networking sites by teenagers and young adults, noting the shift that occurs in usage style as the teenagers mature. Profile pages on SNS are another example of the way in which multimedia sources can combine to create a unique experience for a viewer. The study showed that younger individuals are keener on creating fancy and constantly changing profile pages with excessive decorations whereas more mature users prefer streamlined profile pages. As Livingstone proposes, individuals tend to shift from using MySpace to using sites such as Facebook as they mature, allowing them to better create the image that they want to project. The study focused on individuals in the London area, and did not include any users from the United States. However, the study cites a statistic stating that the UK has about 6.5 million MySpace users (the most popular SNS in the UK) while the United States has 38.4 million. This discrepancy in popularities may hint at differences in the ways in which residents of both countries use the sites.. It seems that many more Americans use SNS than British, indicating that residents of the US may be more reliant on cyber communications whereas British teens still base much of their interactions off of concrete experiences. Additionally, the study concludes that many individuals change the type of site they use as they mature, however this data seems inconsistent with the usage patterns of the sample of teenagers studied. While the general trend seemed to apply for female users, most male users continued to use MySpace even as they matured. I feel that this difference in usage patterns between genders should be analyzed more closely to provide insight into the ways that SNS are used by different genders.
The idea of self-expression as discussed in the readings is interesting, especially regarding the ways in which individual expression is shaped by technology, and they ways in which online users then affect the capabilities of future technologies. As Livingstone notes, “while younger teenagers relish the opportunities to recreate continuously a highly-decorated stylistically-elaborate identity, older teenagers favour a plain aesthetic that foregrounds their links to others” (393). MySpace is notoriously popular among younger teenagers as it allows its users to fully personalize their profile pages. Everything from custom-designed backgrounds to “favorite music” applications can be added to one’s profile to give it a sense of individualized personality. While I never had my own MySpace page, a few of my friends did in middle school. Whenever my friends and I would hang out, a large portion of time would be spent on each other’s MySpace accounts, looking at the latest posts and constantly changing the personalized features of the page. And despite the fact that we were spending a huge amount of time on a page that only belonged to one of us, we all enjoyed the thrill of being able to add tons of personal elements to the page that would then be seen by a large portion of our classmates.
My personal experience also supports the idea of a shift to Facebook as individuals mature. I much prefer Facebook to MySpace for the fact that it is so streamlined and has very generic-looking profile page layouts. I find no need to add all the glitz that can accompany a MySpace profile but prefer to have my page reflect the maturity of my current age. Yes, I do upload pictures to help personalize my page a bit, but even my information sections such as “Interests” and “Music” are fairly compact. I feel no need to list every little thing I have ever been remotely interested or involved in because my target audience is my current friend base. They know about me already, and though my profile is set to private, I still find it unnecessary to add excessive personal information. However, I feel that Facebook is beginning to adopt more and more characteristics typical to a MySpace-like site as an increasing number of younger users is entering the site. Originally aimed at college students, Facebook has expanded its user base in both directions, attracting teens as young as middle school as well as middle aged adults. While older users will probably stick to the features aimed at the college students, the younger users are discovering a multitude of features available to personalize their pages. My sister is a freshman in high school and has had a Facebook page for about a year. Though we are only four years apart, I can definitely see a difference in they way we present ourselves through our pages. She and her friends are very into adding applications for the sake of adding them. She is a “fan” of about 90 different Facebook pages, ranging from our high school to “Standing alone awkwardly in public when you’re waiting for a friend”. I personally have never been keen on the “fan” application and don’t really use it much however just yesterday I pointed out to her that the number of pages she was a fan of was a bit excessive. She agreed and told me she would clean up, only to drop the page count down from 93 to 85. When I asked her why she is a fan of such random pages, she said that she likes them, and that all of her friends are fans as well.
I think that the availability of multimedia sources on the Internet has a large influence on the ways in which individuals differ in online self-expression though social networking sites. In general, younger individuals are much more molded by the media than are older ones, especially younger girls. They want to dress like their favorite celebrities and embrace the Hollywood socialite culture. As a result, they turn to pages such as MySpace, which allow them to feature a background layout of their favorite celebrity or a popular brand-name item. And as cyberspace makes it even easier for the media to infiltrate the everyday lives of individuals, young teens find it more and more important to associate their projected appearance with things that are seen as “cool”. I feel that this desire to project and appearance that is consistent with pop-culture is part of the reason why becoming a fan of pages is so popular amongst teens on Facebook. The feature allows them to make the same type of outward associations that they would with a background on a MySpace page. Even beyond SNS profiles, the “My Story” film shows the ability of multimedia sources to be used to project an image and attract the attention of outside individuals.
As Livingstone notes, individual identity online is strongly mediated by what an individual is capable of displaying on his/her personal page. The identity that is displayed to cyberspace is really a representation of “the self embedded in the peer group” (400). Thus, the site an individual uses for self-expression and the creation of an online identity is important to the final product. Individuals are seen as a member of their greater friend community, and therefore to make themselves appear popular, they want to choose a site that many of their friends are involved in as well. While identity comes from borrowed media for younger teens, older individuals look to establish themselves in the context of their social groups. As Livingstone notes, the formation of an online identity depends on “the choice of site (one must select that already used by one’s friends) and mode of address (most say they put on their profile the content that hey consider their friends would enjoy)” (407). Consequently, self-expression online is both limited and expanded due to the resources of cyberspace. As I mentioned above, the ability to use multimedia sources greatly expands an individual’s expressive capabilities when sharing representations of him/herself online. However, users of SNS do not want to display every little detail about their lives- instead they pick and choose details to best make them fit in with their target audience as well as the other users of the site.
After reading the articles I searched online for different social networking sites, and found it interesting to view the differences in the image projected by the sites based on their target users. Habbo.com is geared towards younger teens. It consists of a variety of hotels and public spaces where avatars can play games and engage in various discussion boards. The site is clearly geared towards tweens, using cartoon-like animation, bubble letter fonts, and bright colors. At the other extreme is a site called Decayenne.com, which is a SNS designed for the elite. The site is only open to users who have received an invitation, and focuses on connecting cosmopolitan individuals who live extravagant lifestyles and believe that they embody a prestigious spirit. The high-status target audience is overwhelmingly evident in just the style of the site itself, as it incorporates fancy script letters with pictures of extravagant locations and dark, mature colors.
A user of either of these sites could also have an account on another SNS such as Facebook or MySpace, but I would assume that their two profiles would be drastically different due to the different target audiences of both of the sites. The average Facebook user is not necessarily cosmopolitan and into “all things elite”, so a user who also has a Decayenne account would probably make him/herself appear more “average.” While the Internet does provide an easy means of self-expression, as well as a fairly simple way to share one’s identity with others, the type of media sources used greatly impact both how an individual presents him/herself as well as how he/she is perceived by others.