Well I may as well start this post by wishing everyone who celebrates it a happy Christmas!
Christmas is a time of joy for the majority of us whether it be a religious or commercially induced occasion. It is however, also a time of stress for some. In the UK it is a long holiday for the majority of us where we get to spend more time than we are used to with our immediate and extended families. Combine this with the financial pressure of gifts and plenty of alcohol and you start to understand why the festive season is also a time where families are more likely to argue and fight.
For me, it seems a very good time to share my opinions on some of the social problems that are caused or at least exaggerated by the Facebook platform. Then I also want to explore whether social networking actually make us more social.
So there are over 1 billion Facebook user accounts now and seeing as the majority are the Christmas celebrating audience I just described, I’m not surprised to see the good advice alert from Facebook suggesting you ‘take some time and review who can see your stuff’. If not setup correctly Facebook’s privacy settings are one of the many issues that facilitates social issues.
Most technology is created out of need and it normally exists to solve some sort of problem. When we implement more and more progressive technology into our lives, our lives change, hopefully for the better. In the short-term these are in simple ways with a one-to-one relationship between the technology and the human beneficiary. In the longer term it may change the way a collective community behaves. Facebook has changed the entire social construct of a lot of the world in a very short space of time.
I’m not going to spend much time at all telling you of the benefits to your social life of using Facebook. For me it’s simple. I get the option to share my life in a quick and simple way with almost everyone I’ve ever known. I get the benefits of receiving updates on what my friends are doing without the need to put aside an hour a day to catch up on the phone and love that as someone that rarely ever takes pictures, my friends tag me in photos and help complete a picture of my social life.
To help form the basis to my rant I want to use an analogy. After recent tragic events in Connecticut I’ve seen the old bullshit NRA saying going around on twitter ‘Guns don’t kill people, people kill people’. The statement, although fact, is totally ridiculous. The point is a shooter is unlikely to kill any or many without a gun. Now, I don’t want to in anyway compare the taking of life to social issues, I just want to use this statement and apply the same misguided logic to social media.
‘Facebook doesn’t damage relationships, people damage relationships.’
I strongly believe Facebook can act as a communicative catalyst to relationships. You could argue that this means it’s doing its job well, accentuating the reality of our relationships. For example people often know of someone that first discovered their partner was having an affair through Facebook. If you look at it in a simple way then these cases may help in ending a doomed relationship quicker, saving precious time and heartache. That said, some of the affairs may have been with re-united friends that would never have come back into each other’s lives if it weren’t for Facebook.
We are human. It is highly likely that with a lover we will hit some difficult times. It’s a fallacy to think an old-couple walking hand-in-hand at a park have always had it easy. Quite often if you actually asked them they’d say the secret was to work bloody hard at it and they are shocked at how quickly us youngers walk away from each-other when having the slightest of issues. The grass is always greener on the other side so I’m sure some of this modern ‘walk away’ culture is because it’s so easy for us to access a new relationship using Facebook….and not always a better one at that!
This ease to re-unite with ‘old flames’ and new potential partners in such a public way is also the direct cause of jealousy. Some may believe jealousy is a healthy part of a relationship but that really is not my opinion. Even if it doesn’t break up a couple; it is the cause of arguments. I have literally known quite normal people to become paranoid obsessive about using Facebook to check their partner and friend’s activity.
Pulling back to just friendships, are all x hundred of your friends really friends? I once heard someone morbidly suggest you can define it by those that would come to your funeral. The actual definition of the word friend is changing, particular with those whose experience of social networking has started online. My 21 year old sister uses the term ‘Friends’ as a loose statement to mean ‘anyone she’s ever met’. Only I know who my real friends are and how important they are to me. They cannot be classified into groups of friends and acquaintances. Although I can create custom groups in Facebook to share communication with, this isn’t and we wouldn’t want it to be public. Doesn’t it devalue a strong friendship with an individual to have them knocking about with 500 other so-called friends?
Most Facebook users do not put the time into establishing their custom groups and privacy settings. They just want to plug-and-play and never get around to doing it, which is why Facebook realises that to sort out this issue they need to do a better job of promoting it. Although the Facebook privacy issue is a hot topic at the moment this is more related to the company’s ownership of your profile details and not your personal settings. In my personal experience I have noticed a correlation between age and the privacy settings. It’s a lot more likely that those under 20 have their profiles in full public view than say a 40 year old. Seeing as this younger audience should be more technically savvy, I’m assuming this is because the younger audience is happier for their lives to be public…..but why? Maybe its because they just don’t know any different.
A 23-year-old friend of mine decided to delete her Facebook profile as an experiment after being a user for her entire adult life. At first she said she didn’t know what to expect and was feeling worried about offending her friends and found it odd to be loosing a documented legacy of her life so far. After, she said she felt like a new person, describing her feelings with words like empowered, unique, liberated and more human…….more human! Is this because we are entrusting part of our social make-up to a non-human entity?
Surely relationships with your friends are more meaningful when you decide who hears what you have to say, not a mathematical algorithm that chooses our news feed content.
I’ve always thought that nature has a way of controlling our real social networks. Throughout our lives we make friends, loose friends and then make some more. If we need more friends, we feel lonely and are more incentivised to meet new people. If we feel overwhelmed with friends we loose those that aren’t so important to us. It’s a search, addition and loss cycle we go through constantly that manageably controls our social lives in a unique per person way with the output being some very good friend matches (obviously can't do this with your family). I continually make an effort with friends that are important to me and I loose touch with friends that aren’t so important to me. Facebook causes issues from the start with this. If an old friend sends me a friend request I immediately feel rude not accepting them and it gets even worse at the point you feel like having a Facebook friend cull.
Over the last week I've noticed that some of my friends have posted on Facebook that their new years resolution is to delete their profile….the pinnacle of irony if you ask me! People are starting to see the problems that Facebook can create and this is a typical reaction. I can guarantee anyone that feels the need to post their leaving will be back re-recruiting friends again soon....and so starts another, less natural cycle whilst pissing people off along the way. I know quite a few of my friends that have deleted and re-instated their profiles on a personal journey to try and understand how this technology can benefit them.
The trouble is nobody teaches us how to use Facebook. The platform itself could be used well as a productivity tool for a real successful social life. It might sound ridiculous but maybe its something that should be discussed in school. If the focus of education is about preparing kids for the real world and their social lives are primarily controlled on a single platform shouldn’t it be a necessity, particularly when so much of youth social issues such as bullying also prevail on the platform. Also, unlike a lot of us oldies, the new generation of users could have their entire lives documented on a public space so shouldn’t the state be responsible for this. If the state, which normally looks after the public’s interest, owned the site there would be public outcry. So why are we all so calm about where this is heading when owned by a company that wants to make money and satisfy shareholders?
Whether you like it or not, Facebook is where everybody is and its therefore going to stay. What else is someone to do? Use a phone and speak? Actually show printed photos? Damn! We’ll have the kids playing outside and climbing trees soon!!
So I suppose this brings me onto the point about Facebook being social. Does social networking make us more social? I think it’s a yes and no answer! If Facebook is used as either a substitute or alternative to real social networking, ‘No’. If it facilitates or adds value to our real social networking, it’s a yes. It all depends on 1. What your definition of social need is, 2. What your social needs are and 3. If you are using Facebook in the right way.
Its hard to remember not everyone has the same social needs as each other. Some people have anxiety in real social experiences whilst others drive themselves crazy when they are alone. I almost imagine it like the EA game the Sims, with a kind of social bar we must fill, each individual having a different level in order to be happy and fulfilled. That said I don’t think anyone would argue that the person going out all the time was less mentally healthy than the person locked in a room communicating on a digital space. There is a different type of feeling gained from real-life communication to a wholly digital one.
Also, if social networking and Facebook in particular is the way forward for our social lives, what happens to all those that are excluded...do they suddenly sit in a separate social class. There's been many an event that I've been to that has accidentally excluded people because of the assumption that we are all Facebook users. Even when my friends have remembered their non-Facebook counterparts, there are often laughable degrading comments made in the event such as "We'd better phone Dave....He's not of Facebook!"
I think too many people are using Facebook as a substitute for the real thing. We tend to always take the easiest option given to us. We just all need to pull our fingers out of our arses and remember that the results of making the effort with our true friends in the real world pays so much more. It's the difference between sending a real christmas card or an e-card.
To all a good Christmas and to Facebook, Bah! Humbug!