Thursday, July 17, 2008

The "real" and the "virtual" Society

I have been trying to formulate two new problems related to my research for the coming months. The bliss I have in this regard is the considerable overlap between my sociable nature and online presence, coupled with my research which entails inputs from the wide vista of observations I can make from my own online activities. For example, the other day when I posted a photo on my Orkut profile, several people commented and I c0uld clearly observe a conversation emerging out with respect to the media (photo) that I shared. And more interestingly most of these friends of mine engaged themselves in conversation despite not knowing each other!

So what immediately came to my mind was that, can this kind of an affordance provided by online social media actually be considered as a model of social network growth? It could be an interesting novel endeavor to look at!

Coming back to my online experience and the pointers I keep getting on my research with its help, I came to know about Dunbar's number sometime back, which says that there is an upper threshold on the number of contacts (friends) a person can maintain social relationships with. And psychological studies point out that this threshold is 150!

Ironically enough, I have a decent 591 contacts on Orkut and I know several other people for whom it is much more than 150. Now the question is, while Dunbar's research is based on people's real world social contacts, does it also hold good in the virtual world? Are the rules and laws that define social relationships on the Web being redefined with technology? If yes, then what is the model for online social networks? If no, then how do we explain 591 versus 150?

But I have this understanding - despite this never ending contact list, I probably maintain social terms with less than 30 people on Orkut. What does this signify? That Web 2.0 is making us more gregarious? Or the definition of a social relationship is getting diluted with newer social media technologies coming in?

I have often seen our online experiences redefining our lives - I have known friends who tend to use smileys while talking! (though theoretically, smileys were created to mimic real human expressions!) And then I see friends having some 200 friends on the GTalk list - do they constantly chat with several of them?

I see a significant change in our societal structure - for the good or for the worse, the Web is modifying the underlying laws that would govern our societies for centuries. And I see a significant contribution that could be made by the community of social networking researchers.


Ravi said...

It is interesting that you contrasted the two numbers 150 versus 600. I am sure part of it is novelty of this web environment.

I guess the pertinent question to ask in the short run would be "would people start preferring online interactions over traditional tactile social interactions?". Another would be- "is there a difference in their emotive responses to situations when online compared to when they meet face-to-face?"
For instance is it possible to remain anonymous and still feel heard- if it were not for the Web?

Alok said...

Of course!! Now a day technologies has a major part to play in everybody’s life. And nevertheless it started leaving the imprints on the society irrespective of whether it’s real or virtual. But somewhere beyond technology there we are missing the real touch of life; being virtually exists you can be whatever you want and there I see the power of Web. Again, what is really bothering me when it comes to online social networking is that it’s credibility. Maybe people here are running out of time or they hang on just to pass their time because no better work or it’s just that thing are easy when it’s virtual or the challenges of one’s life is easily diluted here or it’s the fear of not being with oneself or it’s to show off you have a better world awaiting; the list continue ... I know there is a significant difference between the web presence and online social presence (which most of the times ends up with a number game).

Puranjoy said...

Very weird, because I know of that 150 number story. There was an explanation for the huge number of online contacts, and how that matches with the 150 number. It went something like we are confusing our online contacts for "real contacts", most of them are just glorified address books. So yeah, probably the real number of contacts remains around 150.