Students disconnected?

Chris Souza probably has plenty of friends, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at his Facebook page.

After all, the freshman English major just got started on the social networking phenomenon, which — according to itself — boasts more than 30 million active users.

“It’s just a huge part of everyone’s life now,” Souza said. “It’s part of their routine, it’s just been ingratiated.”

Souza said he has a MySpace account, too, but isn’t addicted to social networking sites — he said he logs on to MySpace about once a day.

Facebook was founded in 2004 and has expanded from a site that served students in school to an open site for everyone. It emphasizes coworkers or classmates keeping in touch and networking based on a company, region or school someone belongs to.

MySpace was founded in August 2003 and while it is also a social networking site, it has a different focus –– meeting people from other places as well as keeping up with friends. Requests to add a friend are as simple as clicking ‘add’ on a person’s page –– they usually don’t require you to know anything about the person.

As for Souza, he plans to keep both accounts for now, but he’s unsure whether he’ll hold on to them past college.

“It depends on my schedule, and on my life,” he said, clearly stating that his online time is influenced by how much time he has and not the other way around.

Though Souza isn’t drawn to over-use his account, the subject of the addictiveness of Facebook was put to the test by an informal study by another college-oriented Web site.

The Great American Facebook Survey reported on everything from the amount of time users spend on the site to other habits, some of which were revealing.

One question revealed that 65 percent of Facebook users used the Web site to check up on an ex-girlfriend or ex-boyfriend.

Maria Sanchez is unashamed to admit it.

“I’m making sure the enemy isn’t talking bad about myself,” she said. “If you have a profile out there, expect that someone who likes you or doesn’t like you is going to check up on you. You got to protect your reputation.”

She prefers MySpace over Facebook, anyway.

“It’s boring. People are just there to brag about themselves and their college stuff,” she said. “There’s more to life than that.”

The survey also reported that 60 percent of women and 36 percent of men used a friend’s account to access a profile they wouldn’t normally be able to see.

That might confirm what television news channels have regularly reported: Facebook and other networking sites are not only addictive but dangerous, filled with questionable people.

Robert Levine, a Fresno State psychology professor, is hesitant to point the finger.

“To discard technology as evil is shortsighted, simple, doomed to failure,” said Levine, author of the book “The Power of Persuasion: How We’re Bought and Sold.”

“There’s going to be something around the corner and this will be yesterday’s news.”

Older generations tend to resist the newest forms of communication, Levine said.

“There’s this idea that there’s something less human that takes place in the new way,” he said. “With e-mails, it was ‘can’t you just pick up the phone? I’ve always wondered about when telephones came out.”

That some students, unlike Sanchez, find Facebook addictive is no surprise, Levine said.

“It’s like a lot of other things that are interesting,” he said. “And for other people, it enriches their experience.”

Levine added that the range and control of communication keeps social networking Web sites popular.

“These are wonderful things,” he said. “There are obvious downsides, too.”

Negative news coverage isn’t going to keep senior biology major Sarah Ghebrendrias from using Facebook.

It’s a good way to keep in touch with her friends, she said, especially because she has from as far away as New York and Georgia.

“I’m sure some people use it to stalk people, but I’m not one of them,” she said. “I think it’s just a hot-button topic.”

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Fun and Games - 09/17/07