Most of this post derives from a series of chats with my good friend who beat me to the punch with his post, but is also in response to the two articles below.
I’ve been thinking about all the things that seem to detract from my life, and why it is that I so cling to these things that cause me pain. I’m wondering if I should embark on an effort to systematically eliminate all undesirable elements from my life in order to simplify it and hopefully be more at peace. Online social networks do not exactly rank on the top of my list of afflictions, but my life is pretty good in general and this should be an easy fish to shoot relative to the others.
Outside of facebook stalking a few cuties whom I’m way too shy to talk to, I don’t feel like I gain much utility from facebook these days. And I do think that I relate to some of the points in the Slate and Atlantic articles. The constant keeping up with the Joneses with respect to status updates and the facade of interestingness is exhausting. I simply don’t have the compelling need to display my life for all to see, nor do I have a desire to be doing something facebook-status-worthy every free waking moment of my life. I value peace and relaxation as much as excitement. I also sincerely believe that people are not quite as happy as they seem to be in their facebook statuses alone. I try to present a fair worldview and balance things out a little by posting some less happy things, some instances in my life where I am truly not feeling interesting or positive or sociable. Not surprisingly, most of those posts do not garner any responses. Maybe this will also be ignored by all.
The persistence of always-online technology is also something that I’m not sure I enjoy. While I understand the benefits of having a smart phone, I believe that it lends itself towards abuse in social situations. These days, I even use my phone as a watch. It becomes tethered to me, and it’s stifling. Knowing that emails are always right there, that all those websites and apps are a few seconds away. It becomes harder and harder to get away from computers or the online these days. Again, the utility of modern telecommunications is hard to overstate; on the other hand, I really don’t miss technology that much during those times I’m out backpacking or trekking and there’s no reception for miles. I’m seriously considering not renewing my data plan when my current cell phone contract expires.
And during social functions, if you’re truly enjoying the company of others at any event, would you really want to “check in” just to let everyone else know that you’re there? Maybe for a lot of people the answer is “yes”. As my friend mentioned, though, a good conversation should be engrossing and should consume you in that moment. Thinking narcissistically and posting some status update or checking in means you temporarily break out of the moment. (This is also why I’m not fond of taking pictures during vacations.) I still find it rude and distracting when people check their phones during conversations. I know I’m guilty of doing it when I’m bored.
But really, the main problem to me with facebook and other social networking sites really tend to broaden, and thus to me diffuse, the meaning of friendship. Of the hundreds of fb friends, how many do I consider true friends? How many of them consider me a true friend? Well, I know that roughly half of my blog traffic comes from fb, which means about 5 of you actually take the consideration to click through the link and read this post. It’s probably true that the other 5 people would’ve clicked via fb if their preferred source (google reader, something else?) weren’t there. It’s probably also true that the 5 of you that click via fb would have found a way to this post in some other way as well.
I guess it’s nice that there’s this communication avenue for people that doesn’t have an insistence to it — different from, say, a phone call that you pick up, or an email where one feels compelled to reply if it is directed towards you. On the other hand, it certainly doesn’t feel effective for conveying anything but small tidbits of at most semi-personal information.
What’s actually concerning to me is that maybe these little fb updates and tweets are replacing more meaningful forms of communication. I remember that in freshman year of high school I refused to get an email address because I thought it was a diluted form of communication. Why would you want to email someone when you could just call them instead?
And I also remember when I used to call friends’ landlines to ask them what’s up and what to do. Then I started using IM and while it became easier to contact people, some level of intimacy was lost. It no longer became possible to hope that my friends’ parents or siblings wouldn’t pick up the phone when I called.
I think the current state of facebook status updates and tweeting and blog posting is another step away from intimacy. We can now broadcast to hundreds or thousands of friends and acquaintances at once, which is a tremendous scale of communication. But it comes at the cost of the personal message, the care and attention to individual friends that one used to give. Even for one as introverted as myself, I feel the strands that might break relationships apart. I might just “like” your update instead of IMing or texting you about it. It begins to feel silly to call someone if everyone is posting daily updates online. What if you’re talking with someone and forgot about what they wrote a few days ago? Everything becomes easier, and everything becomes commensurately less meaningful.
I look at my phone bill every month and see just how few minutes I spend. Even my family, whom I dearly love, I rarely call. Most of my closest friends I’d never call except to organize in-person get togethers. And so I’m kind of glad that internets technologies allow me to keep in contact with a lot of friends that I’d otherwise never contact, lazy as I am with phone calling. (Incidentally, this is also why I’m so appreciative of these hangouts that my more proactive friends instigated.) But maybe the problem lies within ourselves. Maybe we should be uncomfortable and make phone calls instead of taking the easy route and IM or post on walls.
I’ve actually been thinking of whether to take everything here offline. A lot of times, I use this as a diary of sorts. But it’s not a perfect vehicle because there are some things that I don’t wish to reveal to the world as a whole, and also because there are some thoughts that I don’t want specific people to know. Which probably compounds my already typically dense and muddled writing into something that one of my friends constantly refers to as being very opaque.
What is the purpose of what I write? There is a certain amount of personal gain from writing these posts: if it didn’t help me sort out these infernal issues that I try to grapple with, I’m not sure I would post. Sometimes, I am writing for no one but myself. But other times, I really am writing for a small group of friends, for the ten of you out there who would actually take the time to read this. We should probably meet up and talk.