It is not terribly difficult to find diatribes against social networking sites, MySpace regularly taking criticism for being a haven for predators and Facebook picking up proportionally more heat, both in the practical and more theoretical realms, in accordance with its insane growth and popularity. Just check out Virtual Friendship and the New Narcissism, A Dad's Encounter with The Vortex of Facebook and this video clip. And though there is no dearth of supporters, those who see social-networking sites as the herald of Web 2.o and great democratizer of the Internet, I would like to add my own voice here in consideration of another aspect of Facebook, the only social-networking site I have any experience in.
Outside these arguments on narcissism and privacy, Facebook simply remains a valuable communication medium, one whose additional means suggest different levels of intimacy in our correspondences. Consider this simplification, without Facebook one's primary means of personal communication are most likely face-to-face, phone and e-mail (with some generations, possibly an instant messenger as well but letter writing fell out of favor before I even knew enough people well enough that I wanted to keep in touch). Facebook adds Wall posts, comments and messages into the mix. In a fundamental essence, they all are simply ways of exchanging information. If I wanted to know what the homework assignment in literature was or how someone enjoyed a concert, I could glean the information through any of these means. The thing is, I do not use just any of them, and the responses I receive would not be the same either.
I specifically use certain means in certain situations. I would never ask someone why they broke into tears and ran from their wedding on their Wall just the same as telling a friend they need help would be inconceivable in any form that was not face-to-face. How we communicate suggests a lot. Face-to-face communication may be the most intrusive as telling someone they have no time to talk when they are looking into the other's eyes is highly impolite, but it is also the most honest when there is no time for self-editing and body language to consider on top of tone of voice and mere words. Telephone calls and instant messenger are also highly intrusive, though less so than face-to-face and it is easier to ignore them, claim that you were not around, but there is less intimacy and no problem with making them quick. E-mail, Facebook messages and letter writing, the least intrusive as they demand no immediate response, demonstrate great intimacy because of the time it takes for one to organize their thoughts and lay them down. Wall posts are interesting. Suitable only for brief messages, maybe a "Hey, I was reminded of you after watching Lost last night," or "Check out this link" (albeit with poorer grammar and many more exclamation points), Wall posts are also public to all who check the Facebook profile, changing their use entirely. You might arrange a concert outing over a Wall in the hopes that others might see it and ask to come along or keep its arrangement strictly over more private lines if it is to be a more intimate evening together. Strangely enough, Wall posts may be considered the most casual of the forms of communication I listed, perhaps because they are so unintrusive and often so short. I distinctly remember a friend trying to convince another that she should get an account because she did not know the other well enough to give a random call but did want to stay in touch through Wall posts.
Lines of communication are loaded with meaning outside of the words alone. They suggest the level of intimacy between the correspondents, the importance of the message and more still. This consideration must not be pushed to the side.
2 years ago