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Friendship Patterns and Social Networking among Male and Female Young Adults

The rise of social networking has transformed the way in which people interact and communicate with others. Today, millions of people use various social network facilities such as video, chat, file sharing, discussion groups and blogging (Glossary, 2008) to keep friends and family updated, as well as making new friends. This phenomena has so influenced the way in which we communicate, that 67% of the global internet users, use blogs and social networks, making it one the fastest growing internet categories. (Bausch & McGiboney, 2009)

This paper will analyse some various researches that have been conducted on young adult usage, and then it will explore the motivations of this behaviour patterns – i. e. why do young adults use social networking sites. There are varying reports on how young adults use social networking sites. In one study done by Pew Internet & American Life Project, they found young adults are much more likely to use social networking sites than older adults; with 75% of internet users aged 18-24 having a social networking profile. This number dramatically reduced to 57% in the age category 25-34.

(Lenhart, 2009) However, Fallows (2005) as quoted by Bortree et al, (n. d. ) found that 86% of social network uses were women between the ages 18-29 and they consider online communication more important than men do. Consequently, women are more likely to use social networks for interpersonal relationships than men, who use these sites for other behaviours (Weiser, 2001). As such, it has been found that the quality of female to female or female to male online relationships is better than male to male relationships (Cheng et al, 2006) (Bortree et al, n.

d. ) This would appear to be supported by a separate study conducted by Rapleaf, in 2008, which found that men tended to more transactional than relational when building social networking relationships. Women were found to have more friends than men. This study sampled over 30 million users across Hi5, LiveJournal, Bebo, FriendStar, Facebook, among others. They examined the number of friends that men had verses women, and found that of users having at least one friend, 46. 43% were male compared to 53. 57% female.

Users with between one and a thousand online friends, which formed approximately 80% of the sample base, men had on average 57 friends compared to women with 62. On the other end of the scale, the statics changed somewhat, when examining the number of users who had more than ten thousand friends. Men were found to have more friends than women, at 24, 584 and 24, 077 friends respectively. This speculated that, while there was no great disparity in male and female friendship patterns, the differences may be found in how women and men used these social networking sites.

The researchers opined that women spent more time online building and nurturing online relationships, while men spend less time, but the time spend was in acquiring relationships from a transactional perspective. (Sodera, 2008a) The same organisation, conducted a different study that examined social network users verses age, they found that out of 49. 3 million sampled in their database, all users had between two to three social network profiles, and approximately 65. 5% were women and the 14-24 year old age bracket, with most using Myspace and Facebook.

Men and the 25-34 age group were approximately 50% and more likely to use LinkeIn and Flickr. Despite the increased presence of older adults in these demographics, social network usage is still dominated by young adults. The study also found that women and younger adults were more likely to post pictures than men, who are more transactional, especially within the older male category. (Sodera, 2008b) In the UK, research by Ofcom, found that 22% of internet users were adults (16+) with the likely hood of a social network profile being set up being the 16-24 years at 54%.

The main social networking sites are Facebook, Myspace and Bebo, with 39% of adult users having more than one profile on more than one networking site. (Engaging with social networking sites, 2008) Another research done in the UK, further showed that approximately 55% of all social networks were women. (Spicer and Taherreport 2008) From these and other various studies, it becomes increasingly clear that while actual use between young adult males and females is more or less similar, the reasons for usage differ, with women using it to build relationships while men use the sites for transactions.

A key element in understanding the friendship patterns of social networking sites would appear to lie in user attitude or gratification. According to Urista, et al (n. d. ) who make reference to research done by Ray (2007), which demonstrated the importance of the multifunctional abilities of Social Network Services to concurrently meet the diversion, surveillance, entertainment, information and socialising needs of internet users.

They also make reference to Haythornthwaite (2005) and Boyd & Elllison, (2007) who state that the attractiveness of Social Network Services is not in the ability they afford users to meet strangers, but rather in the fact that they allow users to develop their own unique content and make it available for others in addition to social network sites being used to communicate with people who are already within their social network. (Urista et al, n. d)

The concept of user gratification appears to be supported by Boyd’s (2006) research on how teens use on Myspace, which found that the site was a place for young adults to experiment with their identities. Though the study was on teens specifically, it is likely that these insights could apply to young adults between 21-24 years, who are just coming out of their teens. Experimentation is done through their profiles, as they create and change these according to the comments they received from others.

Secondly, are the comments received, and thirdly through ‘friending’ which allows a user to ask another to add them to their list of friends. (Bortree et al, n. d. ). The study by Rapleaf would appear to bear this out. In their study of male verses female social networking usage, they found that approximately only 19% of the respondents had more than 100 friends, 0. 66% and 0. 02% had more than 1,000 and 10,000 friends respectively. (Sodera, 2008a) The Engaging with social networking sites (2008) study opines that social networkers differ in their attitudes and usages for these sites.

Their qualitative research would appear to indicate that site users will generally fall into five broad categories of user, based on their attitudes and usage. The first category is the Alpha socialisers, who are the minority and could be likened to the users with over 10,000 friends in the Rapleaf study. This group of people use the networking sites in short intense explodes to meet new people, flirt or be entertained. Next are the Attention seekers, though not many in number, have a need to receive comments and attention from other users, so they frequently post pictures and continuously customise their profiles.

Third are the Followers, who are the majority of users and joined to stay in touch with their friends. Fourth are the Faithfuls, also in the majority, who join social networking sites to renew old relationships such as from school or university. Lastly there are the Functionals, again in the minority and tend to use these sites for a particular purpose. (Engaging with social networking sites, 2008) Engaging with social networking sites (2008) qualitative research would also appear to indicate that user gratification is crucial to the how young adults express and therefore relate with one another.

The flexibility and ease with which young adult users are able to develop a broad online social network, with personal content that they are in control of, is a huge source of satisfaction for users. The process of customising their profiles, posting pictures or videos, receiving entertainment and being able to communicate with others with shared interests is of great importance to network users. (Engaging with social networking sites, 2008) As user’s ability to communicate is being stretched, so is the traditional meaning of friend. In this context, friends are now defined as anyone with whom a user has an online association.

Thus, the term friend can now include people that one has never actually communicated with, which maybe how the Rapleaf study comes to have a category of users with more than 1,000 or 10,000 friends. Users, thus share personal details with online friends that they would never share with a person that they have just met for the first time in the ‘real’, offline world. (Engaging with social networking sites, 2008) Though social networkers are stretching the use of the term friend, and thus maybe changing the way people define who a friend is, this may not necessarily amount to a change in the genuineness of a friendship relation.

Researchers believe that face to face contact is still necessary to form truly close and meaningful friendships. Earlier studies have shown that a person’s conventional friendships network has approximately 150 people, with only about five of these being very close friends, whom they are in regular contact with. This pattern would appear to be consistent with what research findings that although social networks permit people to have more than 150 friends, users still tend to have about five close friends.

Additionally, findings showed that 90% of the contacts that respondents considered to be close friends were people that they, the respondents had met face to face. The researchers opined that before one could develop a true and real friendship, there was still need to ascertain another person’s honesty and trustworthiness and this is still best done with face to face communication. In this context then, social networking has an advantage over conventional social networking as it reduces the cost, both in terms of money and time of forming and maintaining new relationships. (Randerson, 2007)

The Lenhart, (2009) research and Engaging with social networking sites(2008) studies tend to indicate that people join social networking sites to keep in touch with people they already are in close communication with. This report for instance shows that an overwhelming majority at 89% use these sites to keep up with friends and 59% to make plans with these same friends, though a relatively large minority of 49% use it to make new friends. The Engaging with social networking sites Ofcom research shows that 69% of users used it to communicate with people whom they already had a pre-existing relationship with.

Only 17% used these sites to communicate with people they did not know. The largest percentiles (22%) of these users were between 16-24 years who used these sites to communicate with strangers. To fully understand these usage or friendship patterns of young adults on social networking sites, one needs to understand what has caused such a large number of people to register with these networks, particularly Facebook and Myspace. According to research done by Urista et al (n. d. ) there are several key elements that have influenced this move.

First, was efficient communication was cited by a vast majority of respondents in the Urista et al (n. d) research. Respondents are quoted as stating that “if you want to spread news quickly about an event or something, you can do it very easily on MySpace”; “with MySpace I can tell the same thing to everyone, which prevents a million questions being asked. ” This ability to impart information or knowledge to multiple friends at the same time is a great advantage for network users as was succinctly put by one participant who stated that communicating through social networks is “not a hassle [like having individual conversations].

If something major is happening in my life I don’t want the same question from thirty people [inquiring about] what happened. I don’t want to have to talk to all my friends individually”. Participants further revealed that the information they share varies. An illustration given by one respondent stated “I found out my friend was getting married and another friend was in a car accident,” while another said that they had found out that their friend was getting married on Myspace. “She made a video and sent it through MySpace.

” (Urista et al, n. d p. 12-13) The use of bulletin boards is another way in which these sites are impacting the way in which young adults communicate with one another. Bulletin boards were found to be an effective way for an individual to get a quick response from others. It was noted that “people will post that they are bored so they can have someone call or message them” and that “when people post bulletins they are doing it to get attention and have someone comfort them. ”(p.

13) Thus initiating communication with others to satisfy and immediate need, even though it is by someone beyond one’s own immediate circle of close regular friends because anyone who sees such a message is free to respond as they are within the circle of online friends. Such behaviour confirms in part, Engaging with social networking sites (2008) finding of a category of social users who want attention. The ability to communicate quickly is also another important factor for young adults today in their friendship patterns.

One participant stated that, “if you want to say something to someone, but don’t want to have a conversation, you can quickly comment them on MySpace,” or as put by another, “it’s much easier to comment them on MySpace or Facebook … a conversation. ” (Urista et al, n. d p. 13) For today’s young male and female adults, convenient communication is the ability to stay in contact with family and friends especially with those that were far away. The respondents stated that this was the primary reason for opening network accounts, especially as they were encouraged by friends and family.

It is this convenience of being connected that is one of the greatest advantages of social networks. A respondent stated that “it is an easy way of keeping in touch with people and is good for long-distance relationships”, while another stated that they used “Myspace as they did not want to pay long distance charges to talk to people back home”. For other respondents, managing their friends and family was important. One respondent stated that, “[social network sites] are convenient because people can log on in their spare time,” while another said “it’s easier to talk to people.

You have a chance to think about what you’re going to say and how it will be received by the other person. ” Still another stated, “you don’t have to deal with [the other person] right away or respond right away. ” (Urista et al, n. d, p. 14) In an ever faster paced world, the ability to control ones responses or to put a space between oneself and the friend, without appearing unapproachable or hostile seems to be an important element in the friendship patterns that are emerging in young adults. Social networks would appear to empower users to communicate with other at their own pace and in a manner they chose.

The pressure for immediate responses has been eliminated as observed by one respondent “you don’t need to have an answer right away on MySpace whereas with a phone conversation you do. ” Other participants acknowledged enjoying the freedom to be on the receiving end of communication, without having to engage in dialogue. For one participant, social networks were their preferred communication mode because unlike other modes of communication, it allowed them to check on people without their actually having to engage them in dialogue.

They also felt that since they are busy sometimes, this allowed them to understand what was happening in the other person’s life, without speaking to them. Therefore, while being connected to other is important for young adult social users, the ability to limit access to them is also important. (Urista et al, n. d,) A second factor given by Urista et al that influenced friendship patterns among young male and female adults was curiosity about others. Respondent users, admitted to using these sites to acquire information about people they had an interest in.

This interest ranged from new roommates, people in the community they would like to be acquainted with and people they were romantically interested in. A male participant admitted to opening his Myspace account so as to get information about a young lady he thought was cute, while another lady divulged that her sister used her social network account site to find out more information about people that she would like to date. This would indicate that using social sites to gather information for romantic interest is something that both males and females do.

Receiving updates ore rekindling relationships with old acquaintances is also prevalent, because there are millions of people registered on these social networks, making it easier to locate old friends or enemies. A respondent admitted “I use MySpace to spy on people from high school because I like to find out what everyone is doing. ” Another more blatantly stated “I look to see if anything bad has happened to them, especially if they were mean to me. ” Curiosity would thus appear to be directed towards people that one would like to make an impression on or others who have made an impression in a user’s life.

(Urista et al, n. d, p 15) A majority of the respondents also used these sites as way of getting more information on people they have just met or would be spending much time with in the future, this was noted by a respondent who said “It’s kind of nice to know who your roommate is and who the people you are going to go to school with are like beforehand. ”(p. 16) For instance, one participant is quoted as saying that “I used Facebook to check up on my soon to be roommate. I noticed differences between us [in tastes and lifestyles] and knew right away that we wouldn’t get along.

”(p 16) Thereafter, she changed roommates before school started based on what she found out about her potential roommate. These behaviour patterns are indicative of how young gain and use information on others so as to better manage who they let into their personal space. These young adults admitted to examining the profile of another and then forming an opinion about that person based on what was on their profile. They are of the opinion that “you can find out a lot of information on [a person’s] MySpace profile and it gives you a pretty good idea of who they are in real life. ”(p.

16) The specific elements they used to judge a person was the ‘About Me’ section and any personality tests that may have been posted. However, there are limitations in using profiles to find out information because a majority of respondents admitted that most users had their profiles set on private to avoid stalkers. This would appear to be the negative side of curiosity which raises a number of interesting ironical situations. Firstly, while the participants were quite comfortable in obtaining and using information about others, they are uncomfortable with the idea of others inquiring about them in a like manner.

Secondly, as one participant admitted, one could get quite frustrated at not being able to obtain information about another, because their profile was set to private, yet a majority acknowledged their profiles were set on private. As it was noted, “we like snooping, but don’t like it when participants snoop on us. ” (Urista et al, n. d p 17) A third finding by Urista et al, (n. d) is gaining social standing or popularity. An overwhelming majority of the respondents noted that many young adults use social networks to gain popularity.

Some criteria used for judging ones or another’s popularity rating would be the number of online friends one has, their pictures, comments from other users about the owner and the Myspace Top 8 rating. As one participants admitted “It’s like a popularity contest. During high school and when MySpace first came out, it made you popular to have tons of friends. ”(p17) Many participants stated that for many users with hundreds of friends within their social network, these were not as close or as dependable at the friends that one has in real life.

These sentiments would appear to support the findings in the Randerson (2007) article that even though uses may have more than 150 friends, approximately only five of these are close friends, with the rest being acquaintances at best. Another way to appear popular was by posting pictures and asking ones network friends to comment. The comments received not only have the effect of boosting ones self-esteem, but also the comments make one appear popular, because they are receiving attention. A participant is quoted by Urista et al, (n.

d. p. 18) as saying “I have friends that compare comments. One friend may get 300 comments, while the other gets 10 comments…and they put up similar pictures from the same event. One of my friends averages 300 comments on every picture so it’s kind of a competition as to who can get more comments. ” These comments from participants would appear to lend support to the Engaging with social networking sites (2008) findings about users who have joined a social network because they are seeking attention.

However, Pandora’s Box could be opened by the need to use and therefore gratify the need for popularity, as users may take advantage of the ability to post information that creates a virtual ideal identity, so as to increase their popularity or social capital. Given that many social networkers use these sites to obtain information about others, which is a major advantage for young adults, the issue of how true or genuine this information is, is a question that users will have to decide for themselves.

However, as noted by Gardner and Eng (2005) (cited in Urista et al, n. d,) for a generation born after 1982, that demands quick and immediate access to information going to a person’s social network profile is a faster way of acquiring this information that either talking to them directly or finding it out from others. Another aspect that comes to light as regards popularity is the Top 8, where users rank their social friends. As noted by a participant, “with the ‘Top 8,’ there’s a sense of hierarchy.

People think it’s ranked according to who they’re closest with. ” This would appear to be a feature of social sites that has caused conflict between friends, because users notice where they are placed on people’s list and when they are moved up and down on their friends list. To avoid this conflict, some users have disabled this feature on their profile page. (Urista et al, n. d) Another motivation noted by Urista et al, (n. d) on why young adults join social networks is the ability to form new relationships and receive positive reinforcement.

Some participants of this study stated that social networks allowed one to identify their true friends based on these online interactions. Some participant stated that “with MySpace and Facebook you can find out who your true friends are based on who messages you or comments you back and who remembers your birthday. If someone doesn’t [do these things] than you know they are just an acquaintance and not a true friend. ”(p. 21) Others tended to agree with this position stating that it was possible to use “bulletins to see who is paying attention or to gauge a level of friendship.

If people respond, [it lets you know] they are actually paying attention to your life and care about you. ” (p. 21) However there were many participants that did not agree with this position stating that it was ridiculous for people to have to post bulletins in order to maintain and strengthen relationships. It was noted by one that “if someone really cares about you, you wouldn’t have to post bulletins obsessively,” (p. 21) and yet another added that ‘if someone only contacts me through MySpace it makes me feel like I am not that important.

I call people who are important. ” (p. 21) It would thus appear that in terms of maintaining and reinforcing existing friendships, the need for traditional face to face or telephone communication is still necessary. In terms of creating new friends, this would appear to be related with their ‘real’ world interactions. A participant stated that “I was able to use MySpace to look for people who attended [our university] because I didn’t know anyone when I came here. It’s a good way to get to know people and meet new people. ” (p.

20) Another indicated that, “I start relationships by initiating it with MySpace. I’ll send them a message along the lines of ‘I met you the other day…’” (p. 20) As noted above, participants agreed that they use these networks to obtain more information about people they would like to interact with in real life. As regards maintaining pre-existing relationships the social sites allow users to maintain convenient contact as mentioned earlier. This has the effect of reinforcing the relationship. Another use for these social networks was as yearbooks.

As stated by a participant, “I could never delete my page especially because of the comments people leave me. It’s nice to go back and read old comments. Sometimes you remember an event happening but not specific events so you can go back and look at comments to remember something funny that happened. ” (Urista et al, n. d) Of specific interest to note, is the motive behind the emerging trend of nude pictures being posted. The female’s respondents of the Bortree (n. d) study stated that most female users were motivated by a need to meet young males, including monitoring ex-boyfriends.

Most of the respondents opined that their peers were trying to build their self image by attracting as many males as they could, because they thought this would improve their self image, or because they had a need to feel attractive and desired. A respondent is stated that “I think that women my age might be using Myspace to meet guys, talk to guys, and go hook up with the guys they find on here…They want men to notice them and they love the attention but try attention in the wrong ways.

They post nudity and alot of sexual graphics” Another echoed similar sentiments and said “Young women mostly use this site to advertise themselves and to get people, particularly males, to notice them. The more guys that want to be their friends, the better they feel about their appearance because these guys are basing their, I guess, “feelings” for them just by the way they look”. (Botree 2006, p. 13) In a society that places such high value on a woman’s attractiveness and sexuality, in the real, world, it should then not be surprising to find a similar pattern emerging in the virtual online society.

(Botree 2006) From these observations, it appears that young male and female adults, use social networks to affirm existing friendships as well as making new friends whom they can interact with both online and offline. It becomes clear that users join social networks because it provides them with a media through which they are able to have efficient and immediate communication with their friends and family, while also reaching out to others for friendship.

As heavy consumers of the internet and various other digital technologies, young adults are becoming more impatient and demanding faster and more immediate results. (Urista et al, n. d) Although various studies have been done with each seemingly bearing different findings the single element that appears to be have universal agreement is the distinction that users make between online and offline friends. Most users, agreed that they used social networks to keep in touch and update existing friends, thus illustrating that the change in the friendship pattern existed in the mode of communication used.

Social networks provide for efficient and effective communication, while allowing users to manage the pace at which they interact and the reduced costs of these interactions. Users themselves also made a distinction between the qualities of the friendships. For many users, physical interaction was still necessary before an online friend could become a close personal friend that one could depend on. This would appear to be consistent with how they interact in the real world, having many acquaintances, which would make one popular, but a handful of real dependable friends that one keeps in regular contact with.

From this one may conclude that though social networks have millions of young adults registered , most of them use these sites to keep reinforce and keep existing friends updated with what is happening in their lives by posting photos, bulletins, while at the same time seeking out potential new real life friends.

References Bausch S. & McGiboney M. 2009, “Social networks & blogs now 4th most popular online activity, ahead of Personal email ,Nielsen reports” [pdf] The Nielsen Company, New York, NY – March, 2009 Viewed: 6th May 2009 Available at: http://www. nielsen-online. com/pr/pr_090309.

pdf Bortree D. (n. d) “Identity and intimacy in online social networking: A qualitative study of young women’s experiences on MySpace. ”[paper] Viewed: 6th May 2009 Available at: http://www. allacademic. com/one/www/www/index. php? cmd=Download+Document&key=unpublished_manuscript&file_index=2&pop_up=true&no_click_key=true&attachment_style=attachment&PHPSESSID=e4170affbc2ca0e2f20466a8a61d0439 Engaging with social networking sites, 2008, Ofcom, [online] Viewed: 2nd May 2009 Available at: http://www. ofcom. org. uk/advice/media_literacy/medlitpub/medlitpubrss/socialnetworking/summary/

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