How Close Are We?

April 22, 2017

If I just met you, which type of contact information would I provide you to continue our relationship? Would I give you my e-mail? Maybe my Twitter handle? My phone number? Maybe all the above via a business card? What does it mean if I choose to give you my Twitter handle and not my e-mail? Has e-mail become too personal? Has Facebook become too personal? To further explore the relationship between social networks and privacy, I audited how close I was to people these networks. I used the Subjective Closeness Index for each person in all my social networks. I measured closeness by answering two questions on a 7-point scale for each person:

1) “Relative to all your other relationships (both same and opposite sex) how would you characterize your relationship with X?”

2) “Relative to what you know about other people’s close relationships, how would you characterize your relationship with X?”.

My mom would get a score of seven for both questions while someone I just met and never talked to again got a score of one twice. I organized my findings into a series of arches, the closer the social network is to me, the closer I am to the people in it.

In summary for the following networks, I am close to the following proportion of people:

WeChat 22.9%
Phone 22.9%
E-mail 20.7%
Instagram 18.6%
Facebook 17.9%
LinkedIn 15.7%
Twitter 15.0%

I was close to 22.9% people on WeChat with only 48 contacts. Most of the people on my WeChat were my relatives and I rarely shared WeChat with strangers in Toronto since the majority I’ve met formally don’t use it. However, I had 349 people on LinkedIn and was close to 15.8% of the people, this finding makes sense since I don’t maintain long-term relationships with people I add on LinkedIn. The massive number of people I have on it is due in part to adding people I just meet at events or work and a in part because I maintain LinkedIn as a formal and open network. However, I am much more reserved with adding new people on Facebook, Facebook is much more private and more exclusive for people I have met and trust.

The platform for Twitter and Instagram is different in the sense that I don’t have a choice if someone chooses to follow me. Whereas on Facebook, I have more control over who can be my friend and see my content. I was surprised that Twitter ended up being more distant than LinkedIn. But then again, I use Twitter to follow people I don’t know, such as authority figures, public institutions, news, etc. I started using Twitter much later than my peers. I am using it like LinkedIn where I keep it more formal and professional because it can be seen by everyone and it remains on my profile forever.

I switched phones in 2016 so I lost a lot of phone numbers, as a result, the audit may not be a true representation of how close I am to the people. For e-mail, I created a new address in 2016 and as a result it did not carry forward contacts from my previous years. I don’t manually store contacts on my e-mail because there is no need to since I can find what I need just by searching; I only looked up contacts I had most recently communicated with. I would suspect that both email and phone would actually sit above Facebook and below LinkedIn in the visual.

There seems to be a general relationship where the bigger the network, the less likely I will be close with everyone in it, which makes sense because it is impossible to maintain that many relationships. The opposite of this relationship also seems true, the smaller the network, the more likely I am to be close to the people in it. I like to keep my circle of friends small, I am someone who likes to commit to others and if there are too many people to commit to, it gets stressful for me really quickly. The year when I started using a given platform has no correlation with how close people are to me. At first I suspected that the longer I have been active as a user, the more diluted the network becomes and I become less close with the people in that network on average. But it seems that is not the case, it might be that I tend to trim the fat over the years and just cut remove them from my network. I have done this with Facebook, although it is the oldest network I have been active on, I have removed people I have lost contact with. Trimming this fat affects my future behaviour in which I become more selective with whom I become friends with on Facebook.

Although obvious, it’s interesting to note the use of the colour blue for these social networks. Blue generally represents wisdom and knowledge in western contexts. While colours for social media in China lean towards warmer and livelier colours such as red, orange, and green. Culture is a big factor in how colour is perceived and it is interesting to observe this through social media branding.

If you would like to calculate your how close you are to people in your own networks, you would audit each person in a given network with the following two questions:

1) “Relative to all your other relationships (both same and opposite sex) how would you characterize your relationship with X?” (1 = not close at all, 7 = very close)

2) “Relative to what you know about other people’s close relationships, how would you characterize your relationship with X?”(1 = not close at all, 7 = very close)

Then you would add the scores and divide it by the number of people in the network. You take this result and divide it by 14 and this will give you the proportion of people are you close to in that network.