Have phones changed the way you social network?

Anna Scantlin
Contributing Editor from Kansas City, MO
Published: October 23, 2013

Social networks are nothing new to the Internet. They may not have always been as popular as they have been within the past 5 or 6 years, but they've certainly been around. Social networks can be great corners of the Internet. They help you connect to friends, family and acquaintances, and let people get to know you better. They serve as an outlet to us, as a way to express how we are feeling at any given moment. Whether you love to hate 'em or hate to love 'em, it's hard to deny the influence that social networks play in our society these days.

Social networking has always been a pretty big part of my life - since I was about 11, actually. That year is the year that I learned what a Xanga was. For those of you who don't know what Xanga is, it was a sort of social networking website. It's different than what you would consider a social networking site today would be, though. Instead of short, unorganized thoughts throughout the day, you usually posted one detailed post about your entire day. Once or twice a day, max. It took social networking and combined it with blogging, which is how similar websites like LiveJournal and Diaryland came up with their names. It was my first step to becoming addicted to social networking.

Xanga wasn't as organized as social networks are now. You didn't really have a "feed" to go off of. Instead, had to manually check individual Xangas when you wanted to know what was good in the 'hood. You could leave comments on entries, as well as what you would now consider to be "Likes", "Upvotes", "Retweets", all that jazz - just a way to say "Hey, I like this!" without having to put a whole lot of effort into it. I really liked just sitting down and being able to write about my day. But as we got older, the crowd moved away from Xanga and on to a website that more of you will probably know about: MySpace.

MySpace was the perfect bait to attract teenagers. People could tell how many friends you had (i.e. how popular you are), you didn't have to have long, detailed thoughts, and you could personalize the hell out of it. You could personalize Xanga, too, but MySpace looked better and it was pretty much on easy mode from the get-go. Oh, and let's not forget the "Top 8", where you could really tell where you ranked with your friends. The biggest insult was not being included in somebody's Top 8 when you were certain you would at least be somewhere on that list. Ah, MySpace. I will always remember Tom as my first true Internet friend - he was always there for me.

But then Facebook came along. I don't remember exactly what led me to Facebook, because I do remember technically being too young to be able to use it at the time it came out; perhaps it was the whole "forbidden fruit" feeling that made me want to use it, but I quickly found that Facebook's interface was far easier and more comfortable to navigate than the cluttered MySpace. All of my friends hadn't transitioned, but it wasn't long before they had. Soon my Facebook feed was full of short quips about their day, what they were doing, where they were going. It was so easy to access, and it told me more about my friends than I probably ever needed to know. I didn't need to know when they were at the library, or when they were having dinner, but... it was intriguing. It was information right there that I didn't have to go looking for. I can't even explain why it was so cool that that's how it was, it was just cool because we could, I guess.

The best part about Facebook was that it coincided with the cell phone revolution, and Facebook had arguably the smoothest interface for a mobile website. It wasn't by any means perfect, but it got the job done easily enough, even with the most simple of cell phones. But, at least in my opinion, it was still definitely easier to Facebook from the computer, especially when I had a long status to type out.

But even before Facebook really showed any signs of slowing down, we see the arrival of Twitter, where you "Tweet" things. It's appropriately named because really, the small 140-character limited quips seem about as long as a bird's chirp... or tweet. This might have been an eyesore for people like me, who try to use as perfect of grammar as I possibly can, when I can - which is hard to do when you only have 140 characters to work with! I mean, that's what started the whole death of the English language in the first place: 120 character limits in a text message. "U", "2", "Y", "R"... pronounced, they all share the sounds of real words. Typed out, they drop my IQ a few points each time I come across one. But it's hard to argue the point that when it comes to mobile use, Twitter takes the cake and actually encourages the watered-down version of any given language. They're easy to type out and won't cramp your hand as badly if you have a lot to say. When it comes to mobile social networking, Twitter definitely seemed easier to use.

Finally, the biggest difference in social networking out there now is largely the result of our current set-up with cell phones: smartphones. Cell phones have increasingly become popular for taking what are called "selfies", and these pictures were made even easier to take with the introduction of the front-facing camera. Combine our narcissistic views of ourselves with our love for filters and bam - here we are with Instagram. Albums upon albums upon albums of filtered images that make up our lives.

We have so many more social networks out there on the web now, but with each one that comes out it becomes increasingly clear that they're beginning to cater more to their mobile interface rather than what they look like on the computer. I can't blame them, either. If a social network doesn't have a good mobile interface, I'm not interested in using it.

It's just interesting to me how we go from using social networks that require quite a bit of thought to something that requires very little thought at all. We went from writing small (albeit insiginficant) novels about our day, to a single photo with a couple of hashtags here and there. Then again, they say a picture is worth a thousand words, so perhaps smartphones really do make things that much quicker and easier for us. It's just fascinating to me how much social networking has changed in just a few short years, and mostly because of how adapted we have become to using our smartphones rather than our computer for social networking.

So readers, how has social networking changed for you over the years? Do you prefer to do your social networking on the computer, or does your smartphone usually do the trick these days? Let us know your social networking habit in the comments below!

Image via HootSuite