I reluctantly joined Facebook back in September. I’ve been on it for like 9 months now, and I suppose you could say I’m a little less antagonistic about it than I once was… like when I wrote this article back in 2007, or even this one back in February. I mean, I still have a love/hate relationship with Facebook, but I’m definitely less extreme about it these days.
Facebook is a reality we have to deal with (as well as Twitter… but we’ll get to that in a minute). It’s quickly becoming our preferred mode of communication and a source of many hours of time spent on a weekly and even daily basis. And in keeping with my newly diplomatic approach to Facebook, I have thoughts about both the good and bad aspects of this type of communication.
The Good: Facebook allows you to consolidate a vast majority of friends, family, acquaintances and colleagues in one massive, easy-to-use online Rolodex.
The Bad: Isn’t it a bit strange to reduce all types of “friends” (including best friends, bosses, professors, etc) to just another part of the “friend collection”? Isn’t it strange that everything is so public and shared and mixed… so that my friend from one area of my life can observe and make assumptions about my acquaintances from other areas of my life? Or maybe this is a good thing?
The Good: On Facebook, you can easily share photos, videos, and pretty much anything about yourself that you’d like to share.
The Bad: You don’t have to share anything you don’t want to share. You have complete control over your image, to the point that you can even untag yourself in a photo or remove any comment or unsightly representation of yourself that doesn’t fit with your ideal projection of yourself.
The Good: Facebook is a quick and easy way to schedule events, parties, and social gatherings. It makes it easy to do spontaneous things and allows groups to communicate together more easily.
The Bad: Facebook is too quick and too easy. Whatever happened to the glorious challenge of scheduling, playing phone tag, and figuring out the nuances of group dynamics in a gloriously clunky manner?
The Good: Facebook is an efficient means of promoting yourself or something you like. It allows you to inform vast numbers of people about things that you want them to read, or see, or listen to, and it gives you the opportunity to keep people in the loop as to your life’s important goings on.
The Bad: Do we really need to be tempted to think that our life’s goings on are important and worthy enough to be trumpeted to the entire Facebook world?
The Ugly: Might Facebook be turning us into more prideful narcissists, overly obsessed with our publicized Facebook identity and prone to narrate our lives via mass-transmitted status updates?
Which brings me to Twitter. OH, TWITTER. This is something I have a hard time finding much good in at all. Okay, that’s not true. As a marketing or PR device, or an impersonal means of alerting large groups of people about something important, Twitter is a good tool. But in my experience the majority of people use Twitter as a nauseatingly indulgent means of self branding and pat-on-the-back public self actualization. People love using Twitter to subtly announce their importance (“over 100 emails on my blackberry this morning!”) or suggest something about class distinction (“Oh dang, I just remembered I have to take a Redeye tonight to New York!”). Occasionally someone will tweet an interesting link or thoughtful observation about something, but 90% of them are just shameless self-promotion.
My over-arching concern about all of this stuff is that it is pushing us farther into our own worlds and making us even more individualistic and self-obsessed. There’s a reason why it is FACE-book or MY-Space… these things are all about ME.
In my article, “The Problem of Pride in the Age of Twitter” (Relevant, Jan/Feb 2009), I wrote:
I think that contemporary technologies are nurturing the part of our humanity that strives to be the master of our domain, the sole creator of identity. In former eras and communication environments, our human longing for community and connectivity and the shared creation of meaning was foregrounded. But these days, it seems that everything technology-related is pushing us inward, to the “i” world of iPod, iPhones, iMacs, etc. Under the guise of increasing our levels of connectivity, these technologies are ultimately just tools to help us isolate, insulate, and unshackle from the outmoded constraints of having to answer to anyone other than ourselves.
That remains my concern with these online “extensions of ourselves.” Though they can and are used to cultivate community and interpersonal relationships, they are also tools to aid us in our never-ending quest to be in complete control of our identities. And I’m not sure we need any more help in this quest.