Social Networking vs. the Real World: Social Interaction in the Facebook Age

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Facebook and Freud

Welcome Windows and PC Afficionados - I know you’re used to seeing articles here that talk about your PC, what’s wrong with it, what’s right with it, what you can do to upgrade it, etc. However, today I wanted to explore something that hits a little closer to home - social networking, and what it’s doing to our interactions as human beings.

Earlier today, the good people at the BBC published an interesting story about how families are becoming increasingly tied to their high tech gadgetry and how those gadgets are helping them to better their familial interactions. 53% of people surveyed indicated that cell phones had made their interactions with family members better. Of course, cell phones are not the issue here, but they may as well be - most teens are now hooked on their cell phones much more than they were even five years ago, and the same is true for social networking.

Five years ago, people may have curiously wondered what a “Myspace” was, or what a “Facebook” could be - such is not the case today. CNN even now has a program where they take user feedback from Facebook, Twitter, etc. The fact is, social networking is just the beginning of a Web 2.0 explosion, one which will expand to other sectors of the web eventually. So, the technology obviously stands up to scrutiny - after all, friends of all sorts, and extended family can communicate with you through these interfaces - no one can argue that exchanging casual comments with friends and family is enjoyable.

However, Facebook and Myspace and most social networking sites are creating situations where face-to-face chatter is no longer necessary. This is something that started with text messaging - and even I have to admit, it’s more convenient to send a simple text message to a friend asking them a quick question than to create a pretense for a phone call. However, there is a point where sending messages is not enough - I’ve seen friends breaking up with their girlfriends (or boyfriends) through Facebook, I’ve seen people sharing information that is just too personal, and I’ve seen friends who post compromising pictures.

What most people seem to forget is that without some “settings changes”, anybody can access your page - and by anybody, I mean the degenerates of society as well as interviewers for jobs, internships, and the like. As the social networking scene expands, you can expect more and more people looking for an opinion of you to look on sites like Facebook first. They do this because they know you feel at-home in your little corner of cyberspace - which is why I am always warning people to be cautious of what they post - because if you go on the website right now, you can find the very first posts you ever wrote - going back 2 years or more.

So what are the implications of all this? Where is social networking steering us towards? Companies are relying more and more on social networking to tell them about the character of a person before they even pick up the phone to talk to them. Romantic interests are being judged based on their posted pictures, as well as their personal information (that is self-submitted). You can ignore people easier than ever - two clicks of a mouse and you no longer have to believe that annoying person exists anymore.

Final Analysis

The best question I can ask at this point is: what sort of monster have we created? We’ve created an interface where users are no longer accountable for their actions - after all, picture-wise, anything shy of pornography is pretty much allowed to be posted.

Let me put it in anecdotal perspective for you - when I was leaving High School, my teachers warned me that we would be leaving the safety blanket of a public school system and going into a private one. They were absolutely right - the real world is a cold place, but that’s a lesson that everyone must learn of their own accord to grow up. Social networking sites are fostering the “safety blanket” once more - the reality of the social network is a perceived one, one that you create. The people you interact with are all people you know and trust, for the most part, unpleasantries can be avoided with some clicks of the mouse, and you never have to leave your house to do any of it.

It seems that people have forgotten what it’s like to have to call someone up to ask them what they’re doing that weekend to then arrange something - sure, it’s not as easy as sending out a text message with multiple recipients, or sending out a Facebook event, but it’s the way things work in the real world. Also, Facebook fosters what has become infamous as “Facebook stalking”, or reading up on friends’ conversations to find out what others are doing indirectly. While I enjoy reading on my news feed the events that my friends have been to, it seems almost like “Big Brother” to allow me to check back-and-forth conversations between two people.

Now, to my last point, which will probably make me less popular, but has to be said. One thing I always find amazing while reading through conversations on Myspace and Facebook is the absolute lack of any writing ability. Now, I’m not demanding sophisticated prose out of pre-pubescent teens with only one thing on their mind, but it would be nice to be able to read a complete sentence here and there, rather than the plethora of mistakes that can be found commonly written throughout. It just seems like the more people are expected to write to one another, the less capable they seem of stringing out complete, coherent thoughts - but that argument is about the American school system in particular and should be left for another day.

My overwhelming concern is what will happen to the people who spend hours on end attached to their social networking experience, but never grow as people. They will be making up the brunt of our workforce in the next 5-10 years or so, those who think they are getting a full experience when they are being cheated of what makes human interactions so special. Let’s face it, while chatting with friends through Facebook is not that big of a deal, matters of romance and personal quarrels should done face to face, or at least over the telephone.

To conclude what is already shaping up to be my longest article ever - I want to make one point abundantly clear. Social networks are a very interesting proposition, bringing people together for the sole purpose of interacting. However, much like other immersive technologies (i.e. video games, movies, TV), it’s important that interactions are still occurring in the real world more than they are through the internet.