Like most people, I’m plugged in online. As a long time creator of podcasts, I have a kind of public persona that exceeds the average person – I’m me, but I’m also the persona on my shows, and in order to promote them, I have promoted myself over the years. First with MySpace, then with Twitter, then with Facebook. At one point, I had 891 friends on Facebook – a number comprised of a relatively small number of real-world friends and family, and heavily padded by work and social acquaintances, their friends, and fans of my various shows.
For a time, while I was living far away from my family and friends, Facebook played an important role in my life – beyond the pokes and emoticons and likes and tags, there was a tangible sense of social interaction with the people I loved. It’s a fantastic way to message your friends and see updates on their lives – and in many cases Facebook has replaced email as a primary source of messaging, event planning and information exchange. Like anything else, there’s plenty of good that little blue box with the white ‘F’ can do.
Lately though, I’ve been giving some serious thought as to whether or not Facebook (or any other social media platform) is a good thing in the end. For the past couple of years I’ve become a lot wiser to the privacy implications of using these tools. Not only are you throwing a wide assortment of your personal data out to a public that you cannot trust, and to corporations that are mining your information in order to sell to you, it’s a fact that Facebook (and many other platforms including Google+, MySpace, Twitter, etc.) has eyebrow raising connections to several government intelligence agencies like the CIA, DARPA, the Defense Department and the NSA. What you post, your personal details, entertainment preferences, spending habits, social interactions and general day to day comings and goings are likely being cataloged by a signals intelligence system like Echelon, or one of it’s newer, more expansive siblings. I don’t know about you, but I am increasingly concerned about the implications of this activity.
Beyond the privacy concerns though, are the human factors. Is Facebook something that benefits social interaction – or does it provide a false network of interactions, and perhaps actually block real human contact?
I’ve seen plenty of damage caused by Facebook that would not usually show up in offline interactions. For example – you post pictures of you at a party with a girl. Three years later, that girl is still your friend on Facebook, but you are now engaged to be married. Your fiancee stumbles across the picture, and your digital friendship and notices that last Wednesday you responded to one of your party girl’s posts with a “LOL” and a ” “. Suddenly you find yourself with a jealous fiancee and potential trust damage to your relationship, even if the interaction is in truth an innocuous affair.
We have begun to treat Facebook as our real social network. The interactions on this digital chat-room have real world impact. We get drawn in by our “friends” daily updates, angered or emboldened by their political or religious perspectives. We pour over their pictures, and the pictures taken by others in which they were tagged. We see things we never were a part of, and become digital voyeurs. We update people we barely know with dramas that we wouldn’t tell a stranger, but because they are Facebook friends, they somehow hold an elevated position and our defenses drop.
We allow what people say, what interests they post, and what pictures they show to form our opinions about them without first having the ability to interact with those individuals in person. We generalize people – and are ourselves generalized by others. For example, I have been generalized often – and detrimentally – as a “Republican Tea-Bagger” because of things I post, or opinions stated – when in fact, I am nothing of the sort. My real perspectives on politics, like most everyone else, is decidedly gray – a little liberal here, a little conservative there. But it’s easier to generalize – and then – to judge. And when we judge our digital friends we pull away from them, and potentially miss out on the real and meaningful interactions, where communication is more than a status update, an icon or a “poke”.
We follow people we used to date, and even those we used to hate – just to see what they’re doing – sometimes it causes us joy when they hit bad times, but can also lead us into thoughts of anger, regret, depression and more. We use Facebook to gossip and to judge – to lie and puff ourselves up – to be the person we wish we were, instead of who we really are. I’m just as guilty of this behavior at one time or another as most everyone else using these networks. In a sense we’ve all become one part digital stalker and one part reality show star – two things that in our worlds outside of the computer we are not (or at least most of us are not, and should not be).
But in moving social contact from physical presence to digital presence, Facebook pulls the ultimate sleight-of-hand. How much individual personality is expressed in a chorus of “LOLs”? How much does “want 2 come over now k ” convey? By contrast, how much nuance and gentle shades of meaning are communicated through the human eyes? What subtle hints of suffering, joy, longing or need can you hear in the human voice? Can the beautiful and complex communication in a human glance be transposed into text? How much do we lose by shifting our contact with our fellow human beings to a text-based world of pithy posts and pixels? — Josh Olson
I’ve been thinking that in reality, Facebook is a sham. It isn’t the real world at all, and I think it may actually be doing some level of harm to the way we relate to one another as human beings. I’ve been thinking of leaving it all behind, and it’s harder than I thought it might be.
After years building up this social circle, I would miss the connections I have with old high school buddies, kids I grew up with in school, and old workmates. But I won’t lie – I continue to ask what ongoing value all these connections have – and why I am sharing my life’s activities, events, ups and downs with them. If we met in public today – would it be that easy – or would it just be awkward? On the flipside – is it more likely that my two-dimensional online relations are acting as a buffer, a safe social outlay where I don’t risk the pitfalls and (more often) advantages of person to person contact?
I have already trimmed my “friends list” twice – weeding out those on the periphery that, if I’m honest with myself, I don’t really know, or want to associate with – leaving behind a list that feels slightly more accurate. The vast majority of those I defriended were not my friends – not in reality. Truthfully, I have maybe 3 good friends in this world – and a small handful of good acquaintances that are great to hang out with from time to time. I do not have 891 friends – and neither do you.
For all the good it does to superficially connect with the majority of people on Facebook, is it worth being the subject of social, corporate and government scrutiny any more than we already have to be in the real world? In our heart of hearts do we really want to be creepy stalkers and attention whores? Do we really want to be the main character in our own ‘Truman Show‘? Am I really losing friends if I chose not to log-in one day? Is Facebook a good thing for me?
These are my questions – and I’m not sure I have an answer. What do you think?
Category: Social Media