High school is forever.

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Influence, power, opinion leaders – for a lot of people, their first exposure to this was in their early formative years, while in high school. It was there that they met popular kids, smart kids, losers, band kids, jocks, drama nerds, freaks and geeks. Where you fall in the spectrum depends on your outlook (and your memory), but we have all seen these groups in our life.

There is a notion that social media is supposed to break us free from clique-dom and link us with people around the world who we don’t know, encourage online dialogue and information transfer, and generally, make us more connected. But is it? When I look at my feed (of people that I approved to interact with, or deigned into my clique), I just see information that reinforces the views (generally) of my group or circle of friends. I want to interact with people like me (homophily) so I choose to be ‘friends’ with people like me. Facebook sorts its News Feed into “Top Stories”, based on my clicks before and my previous online behaviour. Not really bringing in any fresh blood to the clique.

From New York Magazine:

In 2011, the Pew Research Center found that the largest share of our Facebook friends—22 percent—come from high school. Keith Hampton, a Rutgers sociologist and one of the researchers who did the analysis, says this is true for college- and non-college-educated Americans alike. In fact, Hampton suspects that Facebook itself plays a role. “Before Facebook, there was a real discontinuity between our high-school selves and the rest of our lives.” Then Mark Zuckerberg came along. “Social ties that would have gone dormant now remain accessible over time, and all the time.”

If you didn’t like high school, that’s a bit unsettling. Twitter is a bit more open – you can interact more freely with people that you don’t know about common interests and less about old friends. It’s more about what you know than who you know, on Twitter. But, you also still get your recommendations based on your past activity – can you ever break out of the clique that you created online?

Within those cliques, there are influencers and opinion leaders who further drive behaviour. In Understanding Social Networks, Kadushin raises interesting research from James Coleman in the 1950s. Coleman found that, through an extensive study of high school influence, teens cluster into social categories — like those I mentioned at the start of this post, which can be named by those in the group or outside observers. But, beyond this “are circles formed on the basis of common interests, activities, or places to hang out. These circles create bases for interaction which, in turn, further create or solidify the circles… The circles are characterized by direct or indirect interaction through a friend of a friend” (Kadushin, 147). These groups and social circles have huge effects on the members in influencing behaviours and decisions. 

It’s interesting because I would think that online interaction encourages more of these circles and fewer cliques, since we can find more people that share our interests online than in high school. But maybe we just duplicate high school in our social networks, like a never-ending Groundhog Day. What do you think – is your social network high school deja vu?

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4 thoughts on “High school is forever.

  1. Love this post Gillian. Before COMM506, I was interacting with two different groups on Twitter and found myself more closely aligned with one. When I got pretty deep into it, I actually got worried about it emulating a “high-school-type” scenario and as a result I started to pull back and diversify. Now I’m working towards sitting as the “digital comms” table, but I still sit with my other tweeps too. I’m a table hopper.

  2. Yeah, then along came Mark Zuckerberg and all my high school friends are around me again :). Love that. I still recall joining Facebook in 2007 and the mad stream of people I connected to within a month or so. Since then I’ve slowly curated that list, and it’s a bit more balanced with ‘other’ friends, high school, some colleagues. Twitter is definitely way more eclectic and for me defined by professional contacts and people I admire. Facebook though was born of childish high school behavior – rating hot girls at Harvard, so really, I don’t think it could grow to more than a high school dance on steriods with a MuchMusic danceparty DJ (I totally dated myself there). It’s still fun, but for me is a totally different party than the one on Twitter or my fav. Pinterest.

  3. My social network is actually not very focused on high school, though I see I may have some “high school tendencies” playing out now. I don’t have too many high school connections on social media. When Facebook exploded when I was finishing my undergrad in 2007 I didn’t join. (I was already…28 or something like that.) I think I joined in 2008 or 2009, and didn’t really utilize it. (I was the same with Twitter and now Pinterest.)

    What’s happening now is that I find myself using FB to work my way into new social groups. This reminds me of being in high school: liking my current group of friends but always interested in being with other groups. (I think this is a bit like Nicole – table hopping.) I don’t mean disassociating myself from one group, I mean getting “in” with multiple groups. So now as I become aware of more people in Edmonton that I think are interesting, I work at expanding my social connections. Because of FB I can see who is friends with whom, and I find myself strategically working my way through groups in order to get to other groups.

    I’d like to stress that I don’t feel I’m “using” someone to get to someone else that I feel is more interesting. I’m enjoying all of the connections I’m making along the way.

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