When it is commonly accepted knowledge that the ‘youth’ make up the primary Facebook epidemic, it is easy to overlook the other, more unexpected sections of the population that, too, also love and use Facebook religiously. Millers (2011) ‘Tales From Facebook’ had me captivated, he writes about these unknown individuals who actively consume Facebook in distinct ways.
He follows the social media usage of certain profiles, who have come to channel Facebook as the essence of their individuality, centre it as their core hobby and use it is the communicative factor in their lives. Miller writes particularly of one who was born in Santa Ana, a diminutive village made up of an even smaller community including one interesting user, Alana.
“Alana explains almost nothing about herself …. everything around her is understood as connected to the networks she lives within.”Miller 2017. ‘Tales From Facebook’. p. 19.
He gives us this profile as one who is consumed by this media platform, a girl who cannot distinguish who she genuinely is without Facebook. She expresses her interests in Facebook and what it gives her. An outlet for socialising, a platform of discussion for her education and her world, gossiping, photo sharing and playing interactive games. As I read this profile, I almost forgot that this chapter is simply an excerpt from an anthropological study of Facebook usage in an isolated village. It was very much a relatable description of my own experiences in my contemporary digital society. This girl and I are very much alike. And, upon reflecting on this reading, she is just as alike as me, as well as my peers. This is Facebook’s world, and we’re just living in it.
There is this deep solidarity found in Facebook, it is an online community that extends beyond a social media channel. It is more than an online social hub. Facebook has become the centre of my life. Being so far away from home, I use Facebook much more than I care to admit. But, I must. How else will I make new friends in this new city? How do I socialise? How do I contact my friends and family back home? How do I keep up with the day to day gossip in Sydney? Miller goes on to say, “Facebook often replicates relationships within the village itself”. To me, this opens a discussion about the ways in which Facebook maintains social relationships.
When I wake up to Facebook notifications, they are often Messenger notifications, tags from friends, comments or replies on my photos, and new posts in my Facebook groups. I am a part of several Facebook groups, and I have more recently joined one called, ‘Subtle Asian Hints’. It is one of the funnier groups I have connected to my profile, one that constantly posts about things that Asian individuals can relate to. And by funnier, I mean that is a constant roll of memes and inside jokes that only ‘Asian’ people will understand. This is one of the more obvious means of ‘solidarity’ I have come to find on Facebook, with hundreds of thousands of members who have the agency to post and tag. Before this group, I hadn’t been exposed to an online community as large as this. And, it goes to show there are billions of users on Facebook who enjoy it in ways that are not typically associated with what my idea of socialising is. In high school (circa 2015), we had a Facebook group of the entire cohort to keep up to date with key dates and used it as a platform of communal motivation. They are both noticeably different groups I have been apart of, which prove how vast the variety of users do exist online.
Another means of maintaining social relationships is tagging. Tagging or commenting on posts is a major communicative tool between my peers. Upon seeing something #relatable, we @ each other. It is a special feeling that unexpectedly warms my heart when a close friend, a relative or a distant acquaintance tags me in something because they thought of me. It is the online equivalent of handing someone flowers with a note scribbled, “Thinking of you”.
I think Facebook is an extraordinary tool for sustaining social relationships. As we move along in our online era, more and more of our world is turning digital. At times it feels … wrong, humiliating or shameful, that the majority of our communication is online. But I think it boils down to the fact that we forget, real time is very much there. When the online world is so heavily perpetuated, we forget that we have the autonomy to make our own decisions. We CAN go outside and enjoy the world in our own real time. We CAN physically meet up with our friends for lunch and have a real conversation. We CAN develop photos for our own collection. The digital sphere does not take this away from us, it simply offers the more enhanced version of it. Take it as you will.
– Miller, D 2011. Tales From Facebook. Cambridge, UK. Polity Press. pp. 16-27.