Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Myface Monstrocity

"You have 1 new friend request," sits in the top right corner of my Facebook homepage. A complete stranger to social networking sites might be a bit more excited at such an occurence, but my extensive experience with social networking websites tells me I have nothing I should jump out of my chair for. When the requester's identity is revealed, I ask myself aloud, "who the hell...?" After a brief period of "facebook stalking," I discover that my new "friend" is a freshman at my old high school, some one whom I have never met and probably never will meet.

Such experiences as the one described above have prompted researchers to ask the question, "are Facebook and other social networking websites like Xanga and Myspace actually good for social capital?" Researchers at Michigan State University claim that more Facebook use is associated with higher social capital, and that Facebook proves even more helpful in its ability to create "bridging social capital;" But is it not possible that this association between more Facebook use and higher social capital only reflects social capital created outside of facebook, face-to-face? If some one who is popular in the real world, not on the internet, decides to make a Facebook, that person will receive countless friend requests because of relationships created in the real world, not on the internet. Facebook did not actually increase Mr. Popular's social capital, but merely reflected it.

Thus, it is my opinion that relationships created through social networking websites- "facebook friendships"- and face-to-face friendships are two entirely separate entities; facebook friendships, being based off of an online exchange of information, do not result in enjoyable face-to-face relationships. In fact, a relationship having existed entirely over facebook can result in insecurity and strained conversation when the two correspondents are actually forced to interact in person. A friendship created entirely on facebook is a facade, only reflecting or "maintaining" an actual friendship that already existed because of face-to-face interaction; but a facebook friendship can never create anything more in person than what already existed before facebook interaction. Facebook only increases social capital in that it connects people so that they organize a meeting in person to create a face-to-face relationship.

For example: In 10th grade, a girl by the name of Ryan Carter and I, two people who had never even met in person but attended the same high school, became friends on facebook. Shortly after this friend request was confirmed, Ryan and I began talking using the "facebook chat" utility. We talked about music, school, movies; typical high school bullcrap. It was not long after we began our "facebook friendship," however, that I noticed how strained things were between us in person. In the mornings before classes, if we ended up in the same circle of kids killing time before classes, our conversations came sluggishly, if at all. Facebook had betrayed us! While my homepage proudly displayed "Malcolm is now friends with Ryan Carter," our face-to-face interactions said quite the opposite. Is it possible that we were both just shy? Yes. But there is undeniably something unnatural and disconcerting in knowing so much about some one before ever actually speaking to them.

In addition to the strain social networking websites create for relationships based entirely on internet interaction, Facebook and the internet in general have made interactions with people simply mean less. On facebook, you can have conversations with 10 people at once! You can make 100 friends in a day! Sure, these conversations may be slow and/or devoid of any substance, and the friendships may be with people that you actually despise; but it can be done! Trust me- I know. It is focusing on these numbers of friends and conversations, and not that they are "devoid of substance," that leads so many people to believe that facebook is beneficial for social capital.

Some might even suggest that online dating is proof of social networking websites' ability to create friendships and increase social capital. As with facebook, this only improves social capital in that it creates "bridging social capital." Two people will not become best friends or soulmates online (although weddings on World of Warcraft are a fairly common occurence,) but social networking websites have connected them so that they may meet in person and create a face-to-face friendship. Without face-to-face interaction, a person is only their profile and a chatbox in the corner of the computer screen.

Wafflin' Around: A Dining Experience (Now with Social Capital!)

For our lab, we decided to dine at both a chain and a local breakfast restaurant in Winston-Salem. Little did our unsuspecting waitresses know, we were actually investigating as to the social capital of these two businesses and hopefully coming to a decision as to which is more beneficial to the community. Hijinks ensue!

First stop: International House of Pancakes (IHOP)

Just skimming the cluttered menu at the chain restaurant, IHOP. (Perhaps you've heard of it?)
Trina found the pictures helpful in selecting her delicious and nutritious(?) breakfast.

We couldn't help but wonder if the logo printed on our coffee mugs was there to further advertise the restaurant we were already eating at, or if IHOP simply attracts forgetful diners.
Though we arrived late in the afternoon, which are not quite prime hours for breakfast, business at the House of Pancakes was far from booming. The one woman sitting near us was Senegalese and though quite friendly and tolerant of our teenage angst and antics, did not appear to be expanding her social capital. We also noted the juxtaposition of American imagery into the blatant self-advertising; we felt this subtracted heavily from the hominess of the joint.

The bathrooms were clean but quite plain. I certainly did not feel at home.

Endorsing the NFL heavily contributed to the national feel of this chain.

There was definitely bang for the buck (I could barely stand up as we were leaving) and the waitress, Toya, a Winston-Salem resident, was a joy(a). Upon interrogation, she claimed, though she was only in her 6 month of employment, that lots of folk brought the whole family along (perhaps to utilize the extensive children's menu) and she had several returning customers. Overall, we found IHOP to be delicious, reasonably-priced and quick, but also deserted and definitely not a staple to the Winston-Salem community.

Second Stop: Mary's, Of Course!

Right from the start, we noticed drastic differences in the local restaurant, Mary's, Of Course! The place was packed, the service was expedient yet relaxed and the food was phenomenal. It felt like paying for a homecooked meal with distant relatives.

No two cups or pieces of silverware were the same. I was enthralled!

The sanitation score was great, despite the clutter and the kitchen was open and visible.

The wall art provided both ambiance for customers and support for local artists.

Posters for upcoming town events, local concerts and newspaper articles covered the window.

Nothing says community like a good old fashioned clothing swap, like the one at Mary's this Sunday.

Upon arrival, we recognized college students from UNCSA, who are pictured behind me. We also bumped into some friends from Salem Academy. It seemed like a hot spot for hip teens hankering for a breakfast fix.

The bathroom was not only spotless, but had cool artwork as well. It was quite homey.

All the family photos and Christmas cards showed that many families support the establishment, including Winston-Salem's own Errol Milner.

We couldn't help but laugh at this hilarious and surprisingly relevant picture. It reminded us of IHOP's sugary and greasy menu, not to mention how unhealthy some of the patrons and waitresses appeared. After all, a healthy community is a happy one.

The chuckle we had after receiving our check was a great way to end our breakfast at Mary's. The food, service and atmosphere seemed like that of a family reunion; between this and actually bumping into friends of ours, it felt like we knew everyone. Overall, we had a great time here and it was obvious what an impact this restaurant has on the community.


The difference between the local and the chain business in our investigation was quite clear in most aspects. Though neither restaurant had poor service, facilities or food, there was a great distinction to be made between the two in terms of social capital. Where IHOP had some regular customers, and supported the NFL, Mary's was brimming with laughing families, chatting couples and hip teenagers. Mary herself was even present during our meal; Al and Jerry Lapin, the founders of IHOP were nowhere in sight. All of this evidence points to the fact that a chain businesses simply can't be as in tune with the community as local businesses can and in the case of IHOP and Mary's, that seemed to make one hell of a difference.

Vacation Investigation

The United States remains the only industrialized nation to not have a legally mandated minimum vacation time. On average, Americans take thirteen vacation days a year, which is significantly less than other developed countries. And while on vacation, eighty-eight percent of Americans bring their work with them. If given the opportunity to move, I would definitely prefer to live France because their five, and in some cases, seven weeks of legally required leave tops the average vacations taken in the US. If you look at things in terms of happiness, vacation time is possibly of influence. In the United States, the percent of Americans with prescriptions for antidepressants has doubled from five to ten percent in the past ten years. In addition, compared to countries with required vacation lengths, the United States has higher murder rates. In a society where work takes priority, a lack in playtime is a bad thing. As a student, summer vacation is something I look forward to, and extended breaks are something I find necessary. Presented with the statistic that thirty-seven percent of Americans don’t take vacations that last longer a week is upsetting. A legal mandate on the minimum amount of vacation time is what the United States needs.

I interviewed a white, American male, in his mid-fifties. He typically takes a vacation once a year, which lasts only three to seven days. When asked if there should be a legal mandate on minimum vacation time per year, he answered no. When asked why he feels this way, he responded that people get enough time off every week during the weekend. Perhaps his years of years of working a nine to five job behind a desk have brainwashed him. Hopefully, my opinions will differ from him when I get to be of his age.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

31 hrs of inconvenience.....

Dear no cellular device journal,
Time: 8 hours 37 minutes into the mission
Location: Dormitory room (3rd floor moore)

I just woke up. Today is an arts Wednesday. I have made it through the first night without my phone (whoa that made me sound desperate). Right now it’s really not a big deal for me. I’m actually kind of having fun with this. I don’t feel like this will make me feel disconnected from anyone, but on the flipside of that, I don’t think I will necessarily connect with anyone as a result. Only time will tell.
So long journal, I will contact you within the day.

Dear no cellular device journal,
Time: 13 hours 33 minutes into the mission
Location: Jeff Coward’s room (3rd floor moore)

It’s hard to get in touch with people; even those here on campus. It’s frustrating because it’s just so inconvenient. Everybody that I need to meet up with has had to be “scheduled in” face to face. No longer can I just make a phone call and roll with my possy (I mean Mr. Milner did say I was a playah right?). At this point I feel like more than anything, going with no cell phone is DISconnecting me from others.
OK journal,
I’ll call you later….oh right….

Dear no cellular device journal,
Time: 18 hours 34 minutes into the mission
Location: Dormitory room (3rd floor moore)

I have come to the conclusion that this lab is disconnecting me from people. I think as a society we have become so dependent on cell phones that our schedules gravitate around them (that sounds obsessive but I think it may be true). Trying to keep things in line throughout the day has been much more difficult. Whether it be calling home, lining up practice times with other students, or just wanting to make a friendly call to the girlfriend, things just seem to be easier with cell phones. I wouldn’t mind going without a cell phone as long as I was constantly around the people I communicate most with. But besides that, more than anything, this lab has been an annoying inconvenience.
So long journal, I will talk with you later (and by that I mean I will not call you)

Dear no cellular device journal,
Time: 23 hrs 8 minutes into mission
Location: Dormitory room (3rd floor moore)

It’s official; this lab has not connected me in any particular way to anyone. I feel distant from everyone…..weird… I feel like I’m going to have to make a bunch of “catch up calls” tomorrow. Social capitalism is about connecting with others and this has not connected me personally. While I’m saying that having no cell phone for the last 23 hours and 8 minutes has made me feel disconnected from people, I don’t think to have a cell phone is to be connected. In other words, a cell phone can be used to engage yourself with others sure, but also it could distract you from what is in your present. It could draw you away from the people that surround you. Whatever it may be for you; for me, this lab has shown (and is showing) me that making a phone call can lead to a night out at the bowling alley with friends.
Peace journal.

Dear no cellular device journal,
Time: 34 hours and 29 minutes
Location: Dorm room 3rd floor moore

So the lab is over. I have a few voicemails, a couple a text messages and a full battery. It’s nice for things to be so convenient again. Everything is just easy now. I don’t have to go out of my way to make plans; I can just sit at my desk and make a call. I’m glad I chose this lab, it has really shown me how much we use our cell phones in our society (even subconsciously). Having my phone back makes me feel re-connected with others.

I think I’ll go bowling with some people tonight….