Our Networks, Ourselves

Our Networks, Ourselves

Two years ago, a student I work with told me something terrifying. A recruiter at a job fair had told her she’d never get a job without a MySpace page. She wanted to know how I got a job without a MySpace page. I told her the truth: connections. I knew the person that hired me. I’d worked with him before.

“So, you networked,” she said.

“Um… yeah, I guess.”

She explained that this is what MySpace was for: networking, meeting people and getting jobs. I guess I didn’t get it then, and I still don’t. I don’t get the “networking” value of social networking sites. Social networking sites have given me something valuable: a replacement for my outdated address book, where the entries update themselves and I can always find who I’m looking for. They haven’t connected me with my dream job, or my future soul mate, or even any new friends, so why are they such a big deal?

People with titles like “ethnographic sociological researcher” are trying their best to figure it out, but most of us are out of the loop and behind the times. For example, Danah Boyd just published an essay on class issues in social networking Web sites. In her essay, she gives the history, and shows how it set up the class struggle. In 2003-2004, MySpace went from being a 20-30-something site to a teen site that helped bands promote themselves. In 2004, Facebook started at Harvard University. She doesn’t really touch on the why though. Why are Facebook and MySpace so popular? Before them, Friendster and other social networking sites could show you who you knew, and who they know so you can connect with new people (that’s what networking is, right?). But MySpace and Facebook took off because they had plenty of space for the users to talk about themselves. The theory is that you can list your favorite hobbies, or movies, or books on your profile and make friends with people with the same interests. It doesn’t work that way in practice though. Most people just write about themselves. These sites...

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