A Response to Guy Merchant’s Visual Networks: Learning and Photosharing
“Online social networking can both strengthen existing social ties with friends and family and help to establish new relationships.”
-Guy Merchant, Visual Networks: Learning and Photosharing
In his contribution to Knobel and Lankshear’s DIY Media: Creating, Sharing, and Learning with New Technologies (Chapter 4), Guy Merchant postulates Flickr, the popular photo sharing site, as a new platform for relationship building. Much like the local drive-in restaurants of the 1950s, Merchant views Flickr and, most likely Facebook, Instagram and the other ubiquitous social media sites, as a location where users can congregate to discuss and post about common interests. He argues that these web-based interactions share similar traits with and are just as valuable as face-to-face interactions. In today’s world, many people would more than likely agree with him.
Before I respond, let me start by stating that, by nature, I am a “both sides of the coin” kind of person. Even if I disagree with someone’s point of view, I am usually able to listen to their argument and understand why they might think the way that they do.
So it is with Merchant’s assertion.
I one hundred percent value the idea that, by creating a locus around which people can socialize, Flickr and its ilk have indeed changed the way that people interact. As Merchant himself states, “online social networking can both strengthen existing social ties with friends and family and help to establish new relationships.” In its most immediate sense, this quote postulates that online social networking can establish new relationships. I find this claim to be particularly important. Not only can online social networks connect us to anyone around the world, they can also provide a safe haven where people suffering from anxiety disorders, autism, or any other disabilities that hamper social interactions feel safe to engage others. Providing those who would not engage with others in the more “traditional,” face-to-face manner an avenue to do so is an extremely powerful and important development in the world of social interactions.
However, this quote also argues that “online social networking can...strengthen existing social ties....” By using the word “existing,” Merchant is saying that online social networking sites like Flickr bolster social ties that already existed before the advent of social media. That they, in fact, reaffirm the more “traditional” face-to-face socializing familiar to the generations preceding the Millennials.
So, really, Flickr and other social media sites are simply new means to an end that humans have always sought: the interaction with others that share points of view and interests similar to ours. Perhaps, this is not such an earth shattering insight, but, when I hear words like "genius" hurled upon Mark Zuckerburg, I can’t help but wonder: is genius really at work here? Or, are we, as a species, simply repeating a pattern of behaviors that have existed since the first “social networking” platform: the fire?
As always, I would love to hear your comments and thoughts, concerns. Please feel free to leave them below.
I am a Special Education teacher currently pursuing his Master of Arts in Information & Learning Technologies (Option: K-12) at CU Denver. I work at Boulder High School in Boulder, CO. Here you will find my thoughts on education.