Is Facebook killing real human relationships?
My roommate shuns Facebook. “Ugh, I’m never on that,” she sighs, “Sure, I have a profile, but I never post. Facebook is all about ego. All that posturing. Bleh.” She makes a face. She is definitive. And she’s not alone. A 2013 study implies Facebook use may increase unhappiness.
I’m a yoga teacher. I often have thought like her and felt slightly guilty and self-serving when I post online. I fret about being a narcissist and posting to just hear myself talk. To attempt to gain a foothold or earn some kind of relevance in the world. From this point of view, the proliferation of superficial, branded, smiley-faced status updates is not only a shadow of human connection, but one of the cheapest kinds.
“Facebook has saved my ass.” My other good friend Sarah lives in Pennsylvania, with a new family and no kin or friends in sight. Sure, her mom travels often to assist her (they’re quite close), but no one lives within 100 miles. “I have one friend here. One.” She sighs. “Facebook, I never thought I’d say it, but thank God. It keeps me really connected. People are out there, online. If my mother doesn’t answer the phone, if you’re not around and I need a friendly ear. I can jump on. Someone is there and willing to connect. I’m now in touch with people I haven’t seen in years. It’s a good resource.”
So which is it? All about ego, or all about connection?
While the Networked chapter is a bit of a “the lady doth protest too much,” Raine & Wellman (Networked, 2012) make a great case for the use of social media as an extension (not replacement) of social identity. They argue that ICT’s (information and communication technologies) enhance and create opportunity for social connection and that “people who use ICT’s have larger and more diverse networks than others.” Rather than being determined by localized groups, social connection is now spun from individualized and personalized networks. The individual is at the center of the spider’s web, creating their own unique design out of the strands of their own global connections.
“It is the individual – and not the household, kinship group, or work group – that is the primary unit of connectivity.”
Of course, this means that the burden of creation falls squarely on the individual. We can’t (ahem) “phone it in” without our social connections losing potency and vibrancy. Community takes effort, particularly when we are the hub.
What about those claims that increased ICT usage will kill our person-person contact? Oh, not so, say Rainey & Wellman, “the evidence shows the opposite: the more internet contact, the more in-person and phone contact.” In other words, we’re using our technology to create face to face encounters. But old habits die hard. Despite Skype and other video conferencing technologies, my mother still hugs me fiercely when we see each other. Being there in person is still different.
One of my personal fascinations is the conflation of identity (one of the reasons I’m writing this educational blog on my yoga site..after all, I am me across all mediums, despite the fragmented branding that we may try to impose). Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg writes:
“You have one identity…The days of you having a different image for your work friends or co-workers and for the other people you know are probably coming to an end pretty quickly…Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity….The level of transparency the world has now won’t support having two identities for a person.”
As I’ve dipped my toes into the Twitter infested waters this week, I’ve been overwhelmed, excited, obsessed, and then exhausted by the voluminous exchanges and possibilities. It’s thrilling and tiring all at once.
And sure, like my roommate, you may choose to sit this wave out. But the tide is inexorable, and there’s a teeming hive world waiting to be explored. I’ll leave you with this nugget:
“The Pope also tweets occasionally as PopeBenedictXVI.”
All quotes from Networked, The New Social Operating System (2012), Rainie & Wellman.