Hundreds of websites. Thousands of homework assignments left unfinished. Millions of people communicating via chat and video conversations. Billions of minutes logged globally. And to what does the world owe these events? Facebook. Twitter. MySpace. Tumblr. Social media.
Beginning in the late 1990s with the now unrecognizable Geocities and Tripod, social networking originally served to create communities where users with similar interests could come from across the world into a single chat room. Because these websites had user-friendly options, people began creating personal web pages and asking anonymous users for their age, sex and location.
After scrolling through the phases of America Online Instant Messaging and Friendster, social networkers progressed to the more personal, and sometimes privacy-invading, MySpace and Facebook, the latter of which is now the largest social networking website in the world.
Blogging websites, such as LiveJournal, Tumblr and BlogSpot, originally began as forums for political and ideological discussion, but they have since changed to more personal, diary-like entries, detailing people’s lives moment by moment.
From an entertainment perspective, websites such as YouTube allow its users to post videos of television shows and movies, along with video blogs, which are more commonly referred to as “vlogs.” People can communicate via video as well, using interfaces such as Skype and Oovoo.
On a professional scale, these same social networking websites are used for advertising, especially by offering coupons and deals to users who invite more people to their websites. Some advertisers attract users by creating games whose surface-level purpose is social networking and fun, but their underlying purpose is spreading knowledge about their businesses.
After years of sudden events to which journalists could not travel, major news sources, such as CNN and FOX, created the iReport and the uReport, respectively, to allow non-journalists to report breaking news with quick video, photo and text updates.
Social networking has also expanded to include online dating, family tree creation and advertising, along with online bullying, identity theft and pornography.
Despite the multitude of uses for social networking websites, Tech students use social networking sites largely for their original purpose: communication.
“I have deactivated [Facebook] a couple of times, but I come back because it’s pretty much my primary way of reaching some people for group projects,” said Sravya Kotte, a second-year CS major.
Tech students also network with former classmates and friends to maintain relationships.
“The websites are really great to stay up to speed with events going on and pictures, but [it] can be a source of gossip as well,” said Andy Barrenechea, a second-year BME major, who noted that he visits Facebook once daily and LinkedIn, a professional networking website, once monthly.
However, some students describe a level of difficulty with balancing the use of social networking websites and school work.
“[It is] bad for productivity, but not to a great degree. I just log off when I should be studying. It is more of a benefit to my social life than it is a detriment to my productivity. It helps me keep in contact with people [whom] I left [at home],” said Sebastian Monroy, a second-year ECE major.
“It honestly improves my productivity. It keeps me alert. It may detract from my focus a bit, but it keeps me awake. My social life definitely improves. It allows me to keep in contact with people that I don’t see on a daily basis. It provides a form of instantaneous communication with those online,” said Joey Slater, a second-year CM major.
On the flip side to their promotion of unproductivity, social networking initiatives offer a wide variety of job opportunities by employing a wide range of skills and majors from MGT to ECE.
On the whole, students find social networking websites to be useful for social and academic lives in terms of gathering information they need, but strongly believe they have restraint when it comes to stereotypically spending all 24 hours of the day on a social networking site.