The Gated Community: A Demographic Analysis of My Facebook Friends, Part 1

still life with mannequins

This is a 3 part essay on the demographic make-up of my Facebook friends. In this post, I explain my methods and show how disturbingly exclusive the Facebook village is.

A Facebook Census
When I befriended my 200th Facebook friend earlier this year, I decided to analyze the demographic patterns in my Facebook community. I did this because I’m a nerd and also because I like to deconstruct things in my spare time. Some men like to tinker with their cars. I like to tinker under the hood of society and culture.

So what I did was type in all the names of my Facebook friends into an Excel file and coded in data about them as if I were taking a census. I entered such things as gender, age range, citizenship, current country where they live, race, period of my life when I met them, and even sexual preferences. I wanted to see how representative they were of the rest of the world.  I’ll cover these in Part 2.

The data is hardly accurate since I had to guess some things like age or residence. Quite a few of my friends are dual citizens so I listed them under the country they actually grew up in or spent the most time in. And unlike most censuses, I avoided the topic of income, or socio-economic level, since they would have been wild guesses on my part. Similarly, I only have the vaguest inklings on what religion most of my friends practice. However, I did note educational levels.

Race was another tricky one, since a) race is constructed differently in each country, and b) so many of my friends are of mixed heritage. This deserves a post all its own, which will come in Part 3.

The project sounds tedious and time-consuming, but it must be noted that after years of being a researcher and collecting data, and being a fast typist, I was able to do this in under 2 hours. Analyzing and writing about the data is what takes longer.

The Gated Community
Before sharing my findings, I thought it might be interesting to tell you what the world would look like if it were a village of 100 people (from the Miniature Earth).

I was able to see how dramatically privileged my community is compared to the rest of the world. In the village of 100,

  • 80 live in substandard housing.
  • 67 are unable to read.
  • 50 are malnourished and 1 is dying of starvation.
  • 18 live on less than US$1 per day. 53 live on less than US$2 per day.
  • 33 don’t have access to a safe water supply.
  • 24 do not have any electricity.

I may not know what the income is for any of my friends, but I’m fairly confident in asserting that all 228 of my Facebook friends live in a decent place, have enough food, live on more than $2 a day, have clean plentiful water, and are literate.

If you have a bank account, you’d be among the richest 8. And I’m pretty sure all my friends have bank accounts.

Of the village of 100, 12 have a computer and 3 have access to the Internet. To even be in my Facebook village, you need a computer and access to the Internet. So all 228 of my friends represent only 3% of the world population. If you’re reading this blog, you’re in that 3% too. That’s a very exclusive gated community. It’s startling and humbling.

 

In Part 2, I’ll look at gender, national identity, and other categories of identity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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7 thoughts on “The Gated Community: A Demographic Analysis of My Facebook Friends, Part 1”

  1. Wind,

    This is an interesting exercise, but how do you account for;

    1) Government subsidy of Internet connections -vs- private/market based connection (Estonia -vs- USA)
    2) Publicly available connections/hardware (free WiFi in many cities and access to computers at public libraries/NGOs)
    3) OLPC/The SugarOS project… creating cheap hardware, open license software, and P2P style network connections in rural communities. (http://www.engadget.com/2009/02/23/olpc-toting-rwandan-students-flock-to-airport-for-free-wifi/)

    The “village of 100” analogy is a great medium with which to start the conversation, but it is becoming less and less relevant.

    -Devin

  2. flan drum hill, it really is eye opening. it’s always good to be reminded of how grateful we should be for our privileged lives.

    devin! thanks for stopping by.

    that’s a great question, about the veracity of the internet figure. it did seem a bit low to me as well. you’re far more informed than me on this matter. i merely took the number from the Miniature Earth website. i didn’t check their sources.

    if i can speculate on the things you listed, i would say that those factors probably don’t have a major impact on the total global number.

    estonia’s small population probably doesn’t make a dent in that 3%. what a great idea though.

    i also love the trend toward city-wide wi-fi. but i would guess that most of the population served already has access to the internet. now it’s just more available to them.

    in both cases (aside from libraries), the person still needs a laptop. then you have to pay for the service, unless you live in portland or some other cool city.

    it would be cool to have this kind of access in india or cambodia, but then they’d still need a computer, a reliable source of electricity, and a good ISP.

    love the OLPC project. hopefully projects like that will bump that 3% up or whatever the true number is.

    the village of 100 is just a percentage of the world, rounded up to represent individuals. it’s as relevant as any other statistic.

    cheers,
    wind

    1. Wind,

      Yeah… after posting the reply I realize I had, as I always do, fixated towards the “tech”… the monetary inequalities are still more than relevant… so… in terms or leveling the tech playing field things are progressing. but the larger issue of more equitable financial situations is still frozen in place.

      -Devin

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