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Social Networking: Insights and Implications

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The past decade saw the evolution of distant communication after electronic mailing in the rise of online social networking. Such examples are Friendster, MySpace, Hi5, Facebook, Twitter, etc. Over distances and convenience, face-to face communication lost out to computer-based communication, but technology has advanced to the point where both are simultaneously possible using webcam, provided by softwares such as Skype and Oovoo.

The Internet is now associated with interactivity as opposed to simply for the purpose of relaying information. It has changed phenomenally from merely being a tool used by the US military when it was first funded, and is now easily accessible to (almost) every man. In this sense, the function of the Internet has transformed a lot as well in the last decade.

User-generated in virtual communities have flourished, with prime examples being Wikipedia, blogs. Web-as-participation platform. Information sharing is the core of the network society that we live in today.

Information-sharing occurs in many forms, ranging from visual to auditory to text. The sharing of information about oneself in online social networks like Twitter and Facebook is a relatively recent phenomenon, quite unlike blogs which is arguable more 'one-way' than 'two-way' (asynchronous), as well as being a slower mode of communication.

Technology is defined as "the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes", and recent technologies like social networking websites that deal so personally and directly with people (arguably determining the way they behave and interact with each other) are of a special, important breed and should be studied carefully for their causes and impacts, moving beyond their mere practical usefulness.

Being second only to search engine "Google" in amount of Internet traffic, with over 500 million users to date (making it the third most populated 'county' in the world), it is no doubt that social networking institution "Facebook" has become a force to reckon with in our modern world. Some of the more commonly debated topics about Facebook (and similar sites like" Twitter" and "MySpace") include possible influence on the social skills of people (whether improving, degenerating, or simply evolving), the concern about privacy "loss", the increasing divide between age groups, and the impact on social attitudes.

What I wonder is whether such a development as Facebook is a "natural" one to human beings. For example, regarding the unlimited (and encouraged) making of 'friends' on Facebook, and 'following' of people on Twitter, "Dunbar's Number" (which states that the maximum number of stable social relationships one can maintain at any one time is roughly only 150), seems to oppose this, which leads to the question of whether (and how and why) social networks have actually led to an increase in the number. Have social relationships necessarily become less 'stable'? More importantly, the exciting neurological research of 'mirror neurons' is potentially



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