Facebook, Fake friends and 'Feeding'

Facebook: the addiction of the 21st century? 

It could be called the new addiction of the 21st century. Really, whether it’s Facebook or some other social networking site is beside the point--it's all virtual communication (VC). That is, any textual, verbal or visual communication between people that is not face-to-face. Why is virtual communication (VC) so popular and what does it seek to achieve? It is more and more common for people to talk about 'facebooking' someone or excusing themselves in a conversation to reply to an urgent SMS. Some parents are giving their tweens and teens mobile phones with extensive call packages so they can let their kids know when they'll be back for dinner as well as so their kids can be connected with their friends. But again, why this dependence of virtual communication? Well, VC seems to replicate face-to-face conversation, and in a time-conscious society this seems a huge benefit. In this post I will be mainly referring to Facebook (FB), reflecting on what VC does well/poorly, as well as how we can improve how we use VC.

What's so good about Facebook?

Facebook (FB) is the most internationally popular social networking site and indeed represents and promotes certain social attitudes. Facebook is shaped around the belief, according to Zuckerburg , that our internet world is moving towards giving the average person a 'voice', where we effortlessly share much information within our friend circles, promoting what we appreciate and value.Nowadays an "object", such as a blog or YouTube video, is increasingly shared and discussed within friendship circles than on the external site itself, thanks to Facebook and Twitter. Other social networking sites have been quick to follow suit. Some would say this is a healthy form of internet democracy. Further, by enabling users to effortlessly update their status to be seen to countless friends, FB theoretically minimises the need for us to talk directly with our friends about our latest news. 

Facebook and Twitter

Something Facebook and Twitter share (as with SMS and IMs) in common:  updates which interrupt us when we are focusing on another activity. Indeed, we are encouraged to multi-task by their convenient phone Apps, Twitter's clever hash tags and FB's somewhat cumbersome multi-function layout. Finally, FB's Groups--like any internet forum-- allow interest groups to easily form and give users a chance to express their identity to the world, while FB Events make sending invitations much faster than in the past with snail-mail or word-of-mouth. Or has online invites and blogging become our new 'word-of-mouth'? (Not that we couldn't previously just email the invitation or news out, but hey it's Facebook!) And does Facebook encourage us to be egocentric, lazy and distracted or does it really promote healthy democracy, socialising and efficiency?

How we use Facebook

Having discussed FB's features as a point of reference for VC in general, let's now think in more detail about how people use FB. We’ll now focus on how people use FB Groups, the Like and Maybe buttons, as well as FB 'Status' and 'Walls'. FB Groups have been used in many ways such as religious or sexual identity solidarity, simply for a joke or perhaps in protest to FB policies, and even in recent news for organising political protests in Egypt and Tunisia, as well as hate groups regarding targeted individuals. As alluded to, the FB Like button allows us to make a crumb trail of sites for friends to follow and talk about. Sometimes incredibly stupid and at other times really informative, what our friends 'Like' draws our attention. While surfing FB and internet, we can easily be overwhelmed how many bits of information are screaming for our attention, and in one sense, it is no wonder that the Maybe button is so overused. Nevertheless, the 'Maybe' button is as an events organiser's bane of existence, as there is nothing like inviting 40 friends and half the people are non-committal.

It hardly needs saying, but online statuses are commonly used to over-divulge details, particularly with the partying generation uploading details while they're drunk. But people use their Status for lots of other reasons: to share important milestones of life or maybe to tell a joke, riddle or quotable quote. Similarly people often use FB Walls for either finding out news of their friends or writing playfully, whereas use FB Messages for more detailed and often more private content. And disturbingly, virtual communication often turns ugly as gossip plus technology makes a lethal combination. Whether it's to merely stay in contact with distant friends, be up with the latest news of peers, sharing objects of interest or playing online games, FB users are different in the way they interact.


Socialise me. Some ideas VC stands for. 

Ok, let's think more generally now about the social ideals which VC represents, keeping those comments about Facebook in mind. What does VC say about us as social beings, as humans? We as humans value intimacy and want to share of our lives with friends. It is worth noting that good communication is hard enough when we're in the same room but 4 times as hard (OK, I made that up!) when we use virtual communication. We often miss facial reactions, key tell-tale gestures or simply the same potential for undivided attention of another, albeit video calls such as through Skype aim to minimise this. The popularity of VC, as well as our angst of passing hours using it, also tells us that people in Western culture--I don't know about the East--value time-saving. Often when we do something online we spend a lot longer than necessary due to distraction, tiredness and lack of planning as some possible reasons. Lack of planning and distraction are two weaknesses which Facebook can exacerbate. Whether it's a instant message (IM) from a friend which pops up while we're reading a webpage, or perhaps a link that we click on, we are getting used to having lots of demands on our attention all at once. At the heart of it, as humans we struggle to manage our time and yet we know that our friends are worth our time. This could then raise the question, how valuable is our time using VC in developping our valued relationships? 

(Grats if you're still reading, by the way. I expect most people who read this post won't have got to this point. If you're interested, here's a thought-provoking article about distraction in the internet age , just to distract you a bit lols.)

Doing online socialising well. 

So, how can we use virtual communication well, giving its weaknesses (as well as ours haha)? Here's a useful and simple blog about using Facebook well. This link suggests considering cancelling our accounts if we find ourselves getting addicted, which sounds drastic but may be therapeutic. Imagine what you could do with the extra time! However, we do need to be aware this does not get rid of our problem of poor time management, and so we can very easily just change the addiction! Something I've found helpful to ask is 'has the other person asked me a question in their reply?', if not than I can move onto the next email or SMS, for example. To be polite, thankful and efficient in one go I usually try to thank someone in advance when I ask for something, while trying to avoid taking them for granted. Speaking of time management, here's a great 'top 10 tips' which I have found a real gem. If you send lots of emails, you might want to look into making an automatic signature which will save a few seconds each email. 

Less distracted, more personal. 

I even sometimes plan whom I will message for the week (to keep me from getting distracted). For Facebook I've started using 'Friend Lists' to organise my friends' updates as well as send updates which are more relevant depending on my friend circles.I also try to only FB Share or Like websites or videos which I really think are class. And, going off the question at the end of the previous paragraph, I sometimes try to reevaluate whether I'm using VC to communicate more indepth or simply exchange needed info such as venue, time,etc. It may well be that I'm trying to use Facebook, emails, SMS's,etc. at times when a face-to-face conversation is more appropriate, albeit harder. With SMS's, I usually write my friends' names at the start of the message to keep it personal, even if I know they have my caller ID on their phone. However if I'm sending a mass news item/ event update via SMS I'll keep it general. 

With my newsletters to my mates back in Australia I use mail-merge to keep it personal, but also clearly state that it's a mail-merge. And here's a suggestion for any Christians out there: why not use Facebook’s visual cues to pray for your friends regularly, rather than soak up the 1000 bits of info? Finally, for everyone-- remember our friends are the most precious things in our lives --let's treasure 'em rather than count 'em! I hope those ideas were helpful in thinking through how you use technology to, in the words of Facebook, 'stay connected'. Enjoy :D

Stay tuned for my upcoming posts on quality vs. quantity. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

O.o I pressed the 'Love' button, and it didn't work... Hey Mark, thanks for a thought inducing article. 'VC' can become a problem when we rely on it to communicate to our friends about anything and everything. It's a shame if we have so little desire for more close relationships then that. Cheers Bro.

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