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Amanda in the Rabbit Hole

17 May

My name is Yang Zhang, but my friends in Canada call me Amanda. For sure, Amanda is Not Alice, nor is Canada the wonderland. However, since I encountered the Social Media in COMM 503, Gordon’s class, I have fallen into a Rabbit hole as deep and mysterious as well. I came, I saw, and I am amazed. Both my eyes and my mind are well-well occupied. So I keep reflecting on what I see, what I learn, and what I experience, which, to some extent, feels like glaring at a strange “myself” in the mirror. But honestly, the reflecting does not reduce the perplexing as much and quickly as I imagined, but it is rewarding after all.

I was not a user of any prevalent social media in North America until I took COMM 506 this year. Thanks to it, I signed up Twitter, Facebook, Linked-in, and WordPress as others. I have to admit it is fresh and great experience to study a course and live a life with so much social media around me. And most of these experience acquired from this class is first-hand for a green-hand me. This process to reconstruct my social networks in cyberspace is enormously similar to my daughter’s rich social life in her YMCA daycare – finding friends, contacting them, interacting with them and expending the social networks through these connections. At least I realize the reason so many people are crazy about this: a rebirth in the unknown; an adventure in the wonderland. From a more microscopic (and realistic and academic) perspective, according to the Actor Network Theory (Latour, 2005), this is a process of “association” and “reassembling” among many nods which has been involved in other social networks. At the same time, the newly-formed networks reached out the whole cyberspace both as a cluster of nods and through individual nods.

To put it academically, my social networks in cyberspace is characterized as homophily because most of the connections I have are either professional or personal. So the contacts in the Virtual space are the same contacts in my Real life – my classmates in MACT program, my coworkers, my friends, and so on. This coincides with what Benkler comments: many contacts on the web are the ones in the real life (Benkler, 2006). However, I do not have any clients in my social networks on line because most of my clients are newcomers in Canada, and they either do not have enough language and computer proficiency to involve in social media, or they are more comfortable with social media in their native languages and/or in their native land other than the dominant social media in Canada. These limitations lead to the fact that we do not have enough homophilies to build a social network online.

One of the most remarkable features of the social media is to build up social networks through “homophily”. All media has a social “function” to be a medium, though the names may vary, which enables users to make more friends from their current friends or/and with the help of profile searching engine. Then homophily can expand to be sociality. For example, I knew Brynne in Linked-in through one of my classmate, who is Brynne’s co-worker in UBC. The relationship in this triad (Brynne, my classmate, and me) is transitive. Each of the respective pair of nods in the triad is mutually connected, and here Brynne and I have a two-degree connection, which is commonly accepted as an advantage in social media because the time period is shortened from transitive connection to mutual connection in this triad. By shortening the time and the degrees, social media help users expand their social networks more efficiently and easily, so the respective homophily evolves into the socialization of all.

Efficiency is the key to using social media, otherwise, the latter will be a burden even a hazard. In this point, I find long tail theory can be very practical. The head in long tail can be the key to distinguishing, filtering, and organizing various kinds of information so as to improve the efficiency to finding the best information in the interference of other. At first, I contacted my classmates by clicking each of their pages on our class wiki to see their profiles one by one. Soon, I found it more efficient to build up connections through “Brokers”, who has more connections, many of whom are the persons I was planning to contact. So I quickly connected with all of my classmates through three “brokers” in our class. These “brokers” are also power users who always deliver more information than the others. Actually, they are the “head” in the long tail theory.

Social media means social information. No matter what form of information it is, it becomes a waste if the information is overloaded and beyond the information receiver’s absorbing capability. It may be one solution to establish a system that can filter information and connect different media platforms, but the system has already existed. In the beginning, I felt very exhausted while managing several social media simultaneously. I had difficulties dealing with the huge amount of information from Twitter, let alone other information from blog, Facebook, and etc. When I wonder how to organize the information from different social media, a classmate showed me the website of “hootsuite” which enables me to filter information, and access to the updates of all the social media in one website. Then I greedily thought, “If only Hootsuite could connect different social media!” So when Kate showed me how to achieve this, I almost cried “Hooray” out! In fact, it is the nature of all social media products to encourage their users to be linked with each other social media product because it not only expands the users’ personal networks, but also expends the market share of the product itself.

Though the efficiency could be dramatically improved, we still deal with various kinds of information from social media differently because of the conflict of “motivation”. According to Kadushin (2012), the motivation needed for safety and effectiveness weighs dominantly in the behaviour in the social networks. For me, the motivation for my professional networks is more effectiveness oriented, while that for my personal networks is more safety oriented. The different motivations decide different “styles”, ways, and even attitudes to different social media. For example, Linked-in is my professional social network; Facebook is very personal; Twitter and my blog on WordPress feature both. But when I log in all the social media, the boundaries blur. But anyway, I avoid talking about personal life and try to be in a natural tone in both professional and personal networks because I know every word will go to Linked-in. For my personal friends in Facebook, they have difficulty figuring out what I am talking about, especially when they do not have any similar background. They may later realize that I go back to school from my work because I stop talking about my job and start talking a lot about my study and my course with terminology they are not familiar to. So I am considering disconnecting Linked-in with the other social media and keeping it as a pure professional communication channel as I can. Yet it is fascinating that there are different social media designed for different social motivations and they enable us to get together people with different motivations.

Therefore, as can be seen, I started with learning to use the social media, then saw its “homophily sparkling” light the fire to connect with more people and absorb more information, afterwards tried to improve the efficiency when filtering information and connecting different media forms, and realized my motivation played a vital role in manipulating them… but in front of all the known and/or unknown fascination, enjoyment, and excitement this fresh experience brings to me, I am still like a little girl in the rabbit hole, having more to explore.

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