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alright i need help to make a summary with 3 sentences with this article!
For centuries, the rich and the powerful documented their existence and their status through painted portraits. A marker of wealth and a bid for immortality, portraits offer intriguing hints about the daily life of their subjects — professions, ambitions, attitudes, and, most importantly, social standing. Such portraits, as German art historian Hans Belting has argued, can be understood as “painted anthropology,” with much to teach us, both intentionally and unintentionally, about the culture in which they were created. Self-portraits can be especially instructive. By showing the artist both as he sees his true self and as he wishes to be seen— self-portraits can at once expose and obscure, clarify and distort. They offer opportunities for both self-expression and self-seeking. They can display exotism and modesty, self-aggrandizement and self-mockery.
In this lesson, our self-portraits are democratic and digital; they are crafted from pixels rather than paints. On social networking websites like MySpace and Facebook, our modern self-portraits feature background music, carefully manipulated photographs, stream-of-consciousness musings, and lists of our hobbies and friends. They are interactive, inviting viewers not merely to look at, but also to respond to, the life portrayed online. We create them to find friendship, love, and that ambiguous modern thing called connection. Like painters constantly retouching their work, we alter, update, and tweak our online self-portraits; but as digital objects they are far more ephemeral than oil on canvas. Vital statistics, glimpses of bare flesh, lists of favorite bands and favorite poems all clamor for our attention — and it is the timeless human desire for attention that emerges as the dominant theme of these vast virtual galleries.
It is worth pausing for a moment to reflect on the curious use of the word networking to describe this new form of human interaction. Social networking websites “connect” users with a network — literally, a computer network. But the verb to network has long been used to describe an act of intentional social connecting, especially for professionals seeking career-boosting contacts. When the word first came into circulation in the 1970s, computer networks were rare and mysterious. Back then, “network” usually referred to television. But social scientists were already using the notion of networks and nodes to map out human relations and calculate just how closely we are connected.
In 1967, Harvard sociologist and psychologist Stanley Milgram, best known for his earlier Yale experiments on obedience to authority, published the results of a study about social connection that he called the “small world experiment.” “Given any two people in the world, person X and person Z,” he asked, “how many intermediate acquaintance links are needed before X and Z are connected?” Milgram’s research, which involved sending out a kind of chain letter and tracing its journey to a particular target person, yielded an average number of 5.5 connections. The idea that we are all connected by “six degrees of separation” (a phrase later popularized by playwright John Guare) is now conventional wisdom.
Enthusiasts of social networking argue that these sites are not merely entertaining; they also edify by teaching users about the rules of social space. As Danah Boyd, a graduate student studying social networks at the University of California, Berkeley, told the authors of MySpace Unraveled, social networking promotes “informal learning…. It’s where you learn social norms, rules, how to interact with others, narrative, personal and group history, and media literacy.” This is more a hopeful assertion than a proven fact, however. The question that isn’t asked is how the technology itself — the way it encourages us to present ourselves and interact — limits or imposes on that process of informal learning. All communities expect their members to internalize certain norms. Even individuals in the transient communities that form in public spaces obey these rules, for the most part; for example, patrons of libraries are expected to keep noise to a minimum.
New technologies are challenging such norms — cell phones ring during church sermons; blaring televisions in doctors’ waiting rooms make it difficult to talk quietly — and new norms must develop to replace the old. What cues are young, avid social networkers learning about social space? What unspoken rules and communal norms have the millions of participants in these online social networks internalized, and how have these new norms influenced their behavior in the offline world?
The implications of the narcissistic and exhibitionistic tendencies of social networkers also cry out for further consideration. There are opportunity costs when we spend so much time carefully grooming ourselves online. Given how much time we already devote to entertaining ourselves with technology, it is at least worth asking if the time we spend on social networking sites is well spent. In investing so much energy into improving how we present ourselves online, are we missing chances to genuinely improve ourselves?
We should also take note of the trend toward giving up face-to-face for virtual contact — and, in some cases, a preference for the latter. In this lesson, many of our cultural, social, and political interactions take place through eminently convenient technological surrogates — Why go to the bank if you can use the ATM? Why browse in a bookstore when you can simply peruse the personalized selections Amazon.com has made for you? In the same vein, social networking sites are often convenient surrogates for offline friendship and community. In this context it is worth considering an observation that Stanley Milgram made in 1974, regarding his experiments with obedience: “The social psychology of this century reveals a major lesson,” he wrote. “Often it is not so much the kind of person a man is as the kind of situation in which he finds himself that determines how he will act.” To an increasing degree, we find and form our friendships and communities in the virtual world as well as the real world. These virtual networks greatly expand our opportunities to meet others, but they might also result in our valuing less the capacity for genuine connection. As the young woman writing in the Times admitted, “I consistently trade actual human contact for the more reliable high of smiles on MySpace, winks on Match.com, and pokes on Facebook.” That she finds these online relationships more reliable is telling: it shows a desire to avoid the vulnerability and uncertainty that true friendship entails.
Real intimacy requires risk — the risk of disapproval, of heartache, of being thought a fool. Social networking websites may make relationships more reliable, but whether those relationships can be humanly satisfying remains to be seen.