Interaction opportunities, relational tensions: navigating the entanglement of friendship and facebook

2017-02-16T05:15:55Z (GMT) by Zoppos, Eloise Hannah
The enormous popularity and widespread proliferation of Facebook over the last ten years has raised deep questions regarding the transformation of contemporary friendship and personal life. With over 1 billion users globally and over 11 million users in Australia alone, the site clearly plays a valued role in the social life of its users. Given the extensive use of Facebook around the globe, the site is often at the centre of debates and discussions concerning the state of contemporary social ties, particularly friendship. Such debates feature in both academic scholarship and popular press narratives, and typically express concern over the perceived loosening of social ties and the dissolution of traditional modes of connection. Drawing on qualitative data, this thesis investigates the connection between friendship and Facebook. Rather than adopting a deterministic approach and positioning friendship or Facebook as either cause or effect, I instead propose that understandings, practices and experiences of friendship both on and off the site, shape and in turn are shaped by, use of Facebook. Therefore, with reference to focus groups and in-depth interviews with 49 Facebook users living in Melbourne Australia, this thesis examines how users experience, manage and navigate the entanglement of friendship and Facebook. I find that the site can provide opportunities for social interactions, and in some instances, may even help enable the maintenance and persistence of both ephemeral connections and enduring relationships now that geographical mobility is often an inevitable part of the life course. However, I also find that the entanglement of friendship and Facebook is not without its strains and tensions. My analysis focuses on three overarching and interrelated themes: understandings of friendship in the age of Facebook, the navigation of the friendship-Facebook relationship both on and off the site, and social presence. First, my analysis reveals that contemporary friendship conceptions constitute a reflexive process characterised by meaningfulness and distinction, particularly in relation to the friend label used on Facebook. This is indicative of the different kinds of friendships that are available in the age of social media. Second, I find that friendship practices and performances on the site are highly strategic and involve adhering to social norms and engaging in circuits of friendship consumption. I also find site use to be problematically implicated in friendship interactions, tensions, and dissolutions. Finally, my analysis reveals that through the use of Facebook, users can mediate metaphors and realities of time and space and manage their changing friendships. The site provides an opportunity for users to experience a sense of grounded-ness in time and space, as well as a sense of location in the lives and memories of their friends. This study demonstrates how the entanglement of friendship and Facebook can make for novel interaction opportunities, but can also make for social dilemmas and relational tensions. It also draws attention to the ongoing need to reject deterministic approaches in research on digital media in order to reveal the intriguing and fine-grained effects and implications for everyday lived experience.