In all things human, education

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.

Photo credit.

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Showing 6 comments
  • Vanessa

    I think Facebook can be different things to different people. It can be a place to connect, a place to brag, a place to market oneself, a place to collect links, a place to lurk/stalk.

    For me, as someone who lives far from family (husband and child aside) and who has had a driver’s license in 7 states and one foreign country (so far), the connection has been important. I think the best part for me was reuniting with college friends in my late 30s, discovering how many of us had married and had children at 35+, and then getting into comment conversations with them at 10 pm, as we all seem to be relaxing at the end of the day. We may not have spoken in 15 or more years, but we still have so much in common and enjoy each other’s company. I like how Facebook makes it easy for us to (re)connect across the miles and despite our over-programmed lives and also allows us to interact as a group, much like we did back in the day.

  • Greg

    Hi Rachel,

    I’m in similar situation as your friend Sarah. I moved to Tallahassee for graduate school from the northeast, but I wanted to remain close with all of my friends from college. Facebook was a great tool for that. Even if we didn’t chat often, we could at least know what was happening in each others’ lives. Of course, you have to have a little bit of an ego to use it effectively. I’ve found that Skype has been even more helpful. My closest friends and I can call each other up and video chat whenever we want, especially when we don’t have in-person social things to do. My online interactions complement my in-person interactions rather than replacing them. (I make a similar argument as Rainie & Wellman in my most recent blog post)

  • Rachel

    It’s remarkable to see how easy it is to pick up those formative relationship threads. With work and other obligations scattering many people far and wide, it’s good to have some technological resources for connection at our disposal. Also interesting to note that – as the possibilities for human connection across media increase – we have have to also “curate” how we interact interpersonally and decide where to put our friend energy. I do find its easier to connect via SM to someone I’ve already had an established connection with; I’ve never started an online relationship that has evolved to anything substantial. Except with my boyfriend via a dating site – ha!

  • Rachel

    Hey Greg, that’s interesting about Skype! The greatest impediment there for me is that it still seems harder to set up a Skype call than to phone (maybe that’s a generational thing?). I wonder what would happen if I treated skype with the same sort of casual-ness as phoning. I’m curious: do you do both equally easily, or do you set up Skype appointments?

  • Vanessa

    Yes, it is easy to pick up with ‘old friends’ on SM sites. I have both high school and college groups on FB. Few contacts from my early 20s, then another group from grad school (which blends heavily with my professional contact/friend group, but I feel closer to the grad school ones). Another gap from my early 30s and first two faculty jobs (I’m surprised in a way about the second one because I had so many f2f friends there, but these folks aren’t heavily on FB and we let the ties drop in a different way). And then there are the now people. What I don’t have are the random people, as in people I don’t know. I have a few on my friends list who I know through other people, but nothing really comes of those connections. I don’t really understand the whole friending-of-friends kind of connecting and networking. I may be too old for it. However, I wanted to share that I actually have started online relationships that because substantial ones. However, they haven’t started on sites like Facebook. They were mostly anchored around blogs, and a few from discussion forums. Many are now my Facebook friends. These friendships got to the level where these people sent me wedding and baby gifts. We make a point of seeing each other when travels take us near each others’ cities. We have talked on the phone and skyped. We have shared very personal thoughts and situations (not in a public forum!). So, it does happen. I think that the friendship development needs to take place in a forum that allows for substantive communications to develop. Blogs fit the bill here. Moving connections to email or off-line works too. However, not everyone will have the time or need to foster these relationships online in this way. For me, the period when most of those relationships were forged was when I first moved to Tallahassee and was lonely. Facebook didn’t exist yet, at least not in current form. Connecting to my most recent group of local (and now far away) friends required phone calls, and just didn’t happen (I felt I was intruding on them and spreading my unhappiness). Connecting online, however, happened organically as I read different web sites and started commenting, etc.

  • Greg

    In regards to Skype, they tend to be set up via text message (“Hey, you want to Skype at 9 tonight?”), but they can also be set up randomly. When they’re random, they tend to be group calls. So three people will be chatting, and they’ll add me if they think I might be available. It’s very casual for me. I rarely use it for school or work related things. I hate talking on the phone, and Skype is the perfect alternative.

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