During the last couple of months I’ve observed an increasingly popular phenomenon: ritualized stalking (RS). RS is a social – or socially embedded – activity where friends browse Facebook together, checking out absent friends, acquantainces, or friends of friends. Thus, RS is a (soft) form of spying out other people’s social media presence for the sake of gossiping and entertainment.
Example: Imagine a group of five friends sitting together in a bar, having a drink, and chatting. At one point, the conversation turns to a colleague of one of the five friends. This colleague has a very peculiar style when it comes to dressing up for parties (no specifics at this point!). To demonstrate this, the friend whips out his smart phone, visits his colleague’s Facebook profile and shows the weirdest picture to the four other people in the group… Laughter all over!
Scenes of RS are very likely when it comes to new relationship statuses (“It’s complicated”), mutual friends, people you might know and other circles of – somehow – interesting folks. RS often occurs when people are already gossiping and “need” some visual aid or additional stimulus. Parties, hangouts, and other social activities provide the best setting for RS. In contrast to individual (online) stalking, RS is a social activity, where the aspect of exchanging thoughts and chatting based on the profile stands at the core. With this in mind, we could use the term SMAG (social media assisted gossiping) instead of RS as well.
It would be interesting to investigate how widespread RS is. Also, who is especially likely to perform SMAG? Men or women? Young or old people? What role do psychological traits play? What are the antecedents and consequences of SMAG – if there are any? Are there best practices, failed implementations, and use cases? Which forms of SMAG can we distinguish? A long way to go for sociology and communication research!
But seriously, I think the affordances of social media have led to new ways of interaction and new social practices – one of them being RS/SMAG. RS/SMAG is a new practice that nicely shows how we embed technology into our daily lives to meet social desires. Probably, the creators of the technology – in this case social media companies, such as Facebook and Twitter – did not plan SMAG/RS as a function of their interfaces. Thus, SMAG turns out to be an excellent example of the social construction of technology (cf. this article for another good example of social constructivism of technology, in this case a Wikipedia article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_construction_of_technology).
Of the same tenor, I think that “googling together” might become another emergent phenomenon. Maybe in ten years time, there will be clubs and associations dedicated to googling together or Wikiing together. Members of such clubs meet once in a while and try out creative, funny, insightful search terms. Afterwards, they discuss their findings. As for Wikiing together, there could be regular and relatively spontaneous presentations on randomly selected articles. (if that doesn’t exist already… I didn’t google it)