Facebook and Connection

February 10, 2010

Posted by: Chad M. Gesser

Twitter: @profgesser

Email: chad.gesser@kctcs.edu

All the world is Facebooked, Twittered, MySpaced, Googled….connected.

I have been particularly interested in themes related to connection in my physical community since around the year 2000.  One of my areas of focus as a Sociologist is the Sociology of Community.  Among German Sociologist Georg Simmel’s many contributions is his work examining group size and relationships.  What is integral to the study of community are relationships and connection.
In the year 2000 a major work in the social sciences was published by Robert Putnam, a book entitled “Bowling Alone“.  This book was a national bestseller and spent time on the New York Times bestseller list.  Putnam’s work spoke to the loss of attachment and connection that people had with one another and how the sense of community had declined over the period of the 1970s-1990s.
A basic level research question that I have examined over the past several years is how does the role of internet technology, particularly social networking sites and services, impact relationships and connections?  On a practical level, have Facebook and other social networking services played an important role in meeting the needs of connection and interaction of people not only in the United States, but the world?  Is the void that Putnam highlighted now being filled through the internet?
Let’s examine Facebook a little more closely.  Literally.  Let’s look at my “connections”.
Below is a Facebook application I used back in February of 2008 to map my connections.
I decided to take another snapshot of my friends one year later in February of 2009.  That’s it below.
Notice in the friend wheel above that you can now barely see my name.  I’m literally “covered up with friends”.  This makes me feel loved, connected, friended when I look at this.
Then this month, I took another snapshot of my friends list.  Check this out.
When I first looked at this, it reminded of the sun, or the Earth.  Have my friends and me transcended something extraordinary?
I absolutely love the Friend Wheel application.  It’s striking to see my visual connections.  My “connections” have grown to nearly 300 “friends” over the past three years.  Sure, I have a large quantity of friends, but do I have quality relationships too?  If you are on Facebook, look at your friends list.  How would you characterize your friends?  Are they from high school, former boyfriends/girlfriends?  Family?  Neighbors?
After characterizing your friends, now think about those you maintain contact with, whether physically or visually, on a regular basis.  Some of these may also be Facebook friends.  What is the difference between “real life friends” and “Facebook friends”?  Do you consider the Facebook friends real?  What is the purpose of Facebook?


  1. One of my favorite things about the friend wheel app is what it can reveal about the ways our networks intertwine.

    I think I made this point on a previous post – but I see the distinction between “real life friends” and “online friends” as fallacious; the connections made online may be qualitatively different than the connections made offline, but they have been shown over and over again to be just as strong as “real” ones.

  2. I have different “rules” for who I have as connections on various social sites. With Facebook, it is for the most part (say 98%) people I have met at least once in person (and connected with relatively well). The 2% is reserved for people I have never met, but a) have an impressive connection with on Twitter or b) with whom I have many friends in common. While I may use Twitter or my blog to connect with people I have never met and build those relationships, Facebook is reserved for maintaining contact with people I already know in some capacity. I am very grateful for the service as it allows me to keep abreast of developments in the lives of my close friends who live far, my location-close friends with busy schedules as well as develop relationships with people I met briefly but liked. Were it not for Facebook, I would very easily loose touch. Luckily, that’s no longer the case.

  3. […] us « Learning Gender Who Are You? February 17, 2010 In a previous post (Facebook and Connection) I introduced some concepts related to Georg Simmel’s work around associations and […]

  4. I had a Facebook account a couple semesters ago, due to the fact that it was a requirement of that specific class, however, I closed it upon the completion of the class. Most of the people that reached out to me were those that I had not seen or heard from in years, mostly from my high school years (1982-1986). Although we were friends as young adults, as stated earlier, I had not seen or heard from most of them in the last twenty years. I had a few local friends to reach out to me on my Facebook, but it was rare.

    The people I maintain contact with on a regular basis are more “real” friendships. I believe that Facebook friends are just people that you chat with from time to time. For me, it would be hard for me to characterize someone as a “real” friend that I just talk to on Facebook. I believe that the purpose of Facebook is to network or to have several contacts. However, unlike the professional side of networking, Facebook is purely for social networking.

  5. I do not have a Facebook account but I do have a Myspace, and most of my friends are either family members or friends from high school. Then I have some friends that I have met through college classes and through mutual interest groups. I maintain contact on a regular basis with most of my family and close friends in other ways than just through Myspace or internet sites; however, it has given me a connection to some of my high school friends who are in other countries due to military deployments. I don’t really have friends on myspace that aren’t “real” friends that I don’t or haven’t met or talked to in person at some point. The purpose of sites like Myspace and Facebook are to allow networking between people that are seperated by distance they can share thoughts and pictures much faster than before these sites. These sites allow for social connections in an impersonal and relaxed setting.

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  7. Well I have a Facebook account and I am on it everyday. Most of the friends that I have on my account are friends from school that I still talk to every now and then and my family. I think that the relationships that you build on Facebook become close friends and it helps you stay in contact with the people that you want to keep in touch with.

  8. I am quite conservative about whom I friend on facebook. I only friend people that I actually know and have associated with face to face. My friends, however, cover a large range of “closeness.” I have several friends from high school that I used to talk to often but now I barely contact them. While I still consider them friends, these are not quality friendships. I have included people that I used to see every year at summer camp. They would fall into the same category. However, I have also included family and friends from church. These people I see on a daily or weekly basis. I know that if I ever needed help, I could talk to them and gain assistance. These people are not only fun to have as friends, but they are also quality friends.

  9. I used to use a Facebook to keep in touch with my family and friends. I was constantly moving and people found it hard to keep in touch with me. I only accept friend requests if I knew them personally. I used to filter my Facebook with people I no longer talked to. Many of my “friends” were people I went to school with. I was more of a loner, so not to many of them were true.I do not know why they asked to be my friend; probably to say they have many friends. They were acquaintances more than anything.
    Although Facebook does make keeping in touch with people easier, I think that it is impersonal. It is not the same as writing a letter by hand, picking up the phone or face to face interactions.
    On Facebook, or the internet for that matter, emotions and tones can be misconstrued. For example, someone has a post written in all caps. One person thinks the person is angry, while another thinks that they accidentally pressed the caps button. Which person is right?
    I do not understand the point of Facebook anymore. Yes, you are able to keep in touch with people, but it is meaningless conversations. There is to much drama. If you were that close to your friends on Facebook, then why can’t you call them? What it comes down to is Facebook makes conversations easier for busy adults. They can go to someone’s page and catch up in a matter of minutes by reading their wall.

  10. I do not have a Facebook account nor do I get involved in any social network, I prefer to talk to my family and friends face to face, by telephone, or even by text or email. Just with the accounts my children have, I hear feedback from what people all the time; knowing about our lives. I realize Facebook is great for many busy people and long distance associations, it allows for photo sharing and catching up with one another, but I find it to be out of control with information about other people. As far as the quanity of friends someone has, I believe it is because of their ego or a person does not want to hurt anyone by rejection, no one has 300 or more close friends.

  11. I currently do not have a Facebook account, however, I did have one at one time. The only people I befriended were people I actually interacted with in person, which included co-workers, friends and family members. With that said I guess then that I would characterize my Facebook friends as being acquaintances such as my co-workers and people that I don’t talk to very often, and my immediate family members would be my real friends along with a few people that I have had face to face in-depth conversations with on a regular basis. Facebook is a social network providing a global communication format allowing people to feel a closer connection with their friends and family.

  12. I do not have a facebook accout. I do have friends and family members that do have an account. I really do not have a personal experience with facebook. I can only give my opinion on what I think “facebook friends” would be characterized. I would think that facebook friends would be a mixture of real life friends and acquaintances. I think facebook would be a great way to keep in touch with former classmates and people that you want to keep in touch with. I think the difference between facebook friends and real life friends is that on facebook you are only a click away from people you know, but a real life friend takes more effort. I do think that facebook friends can be real friends. I think the purpose of facebook is to keep people connected and to keep up with different events going on in your community.

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