As I often do, I read an interesting blog post via Freshly Pressed here on WordPress.com. Typically, when I read an interesting post and then blog about it, I run off on a related tangent and expand on it. Not this time. No, this time I’m writing out a direct reaction to this post, Is Facebook a Farce?, by WordPress user Fungai Neni. In it she explains that she conducted an experiment by switching her birthday on Facebook from April 2 (the real birthday) to September 13 (the fake birthday). She was shocked when nearly 100 Facebook friends wished her a happy birthday for the second time in six months, many of whom (apparently) should have known better. Only one person noticed and pointed out the error. The message that Fungai Neni drives home with these results is that so many of us are becoming too dependant on tools like Facebook to keep track of important things, such as our friends’ birthdays. So many of the nearly 150 commentators are right in line with her, saying such things as, “It just goes to show we are obssessed [sic] with typing away on FB and not considering actually meeting up with friends on a face to face basis and actually asking ‘How are you doin’?'” and “Good point, I really hate the fact that people distance their self from real life friendships but keep putting more and more time in meaningless status updates, while thinking they’re staying in touch. Nice experiment!” or “My ‘real’ friends are close to me and know when my birthday is without FB reminders.”
First, I want you, the reader, to do a quick experiment with me. How many of your friends’ or family’s phone numbers can you recall without checking your phone? Now remove any phone numbers that you knew before 2003. I’m willing to bet the number is somewhere between zero and five. It’s exactly zero for me. I can sometimes remember my wife’s cell phone number, but that darn prefix keeps throwing me a loop. 418? 409? 427? 555? I’m never sure. You already know why this is, right? Because almost all of us use a cell phone, now, which stores numbers in it and we just look up the person’s name in a menu, rather than dialing the digits. The disadvantage is that if you’re ever caught without your phone, you will have a hard time reaching someone; the advantage is that the list of places you can call without looking something up in a phone book or searching through your purse or wallet for the number is dramatically increased.
This is technology, and this is the advancement of our society. We are constantly gaining new tools that allow us to make one or more tasks easier so we can focus on other things. How many of you grew up with a dishwashing machine, and then didn’t have one in your first place on your own and were completely overwhelmed in the first week with how much time washing all your own dishes takes up? How many of you, after getting your first car, stopped walking or biking to your friend’s house that was only about nine blocks away? Did anyone else watch a movie on VHS after more than a year of getting used to DVD’s, and then about faint when you realized you couldn’t skip chapters in 0.3 seconds and had to rewind when you were done? Facebook is an advancement in technology that makes certain things easier to allow us to have more time to do other things. Granted, it’s notorious for the abuses it receives, from status updates listing the day’s mundane errands, to joining or “liking” every community or group about any pointless thing, to obsession with games like Farmville or Mafia, but I truly think that speaks more to the kinds of people using the tool rather than the nature of the tool itself. People abuse conveniences all the time, and will always continue to do so; that doesn’t mean we should get rid of the conveniences.
Let’s be honest here–Facebook is a great tool. You can conveniently set up events and guest lists; you can keep a group of people around a certain interest informed more easily; you can quickly share something you found on the internet that you enjoyed, like an article or a cartoon or a video; and, of course, you can catch up with friends you lost contact with years ago and keep in contact with friends who have moved away or changed jobs or changed churches, etc. On a personal level, I have a lot of friends and acquaintances. I’ve lived in a few different places and have met a lot of people I like and want to say “hi” to once in a while. I’m also part of a church filled with people who really like each other, but the list of friends is too big to keep up with all of them on a face-to-face basis. Facebook allows me to manage this. I’m not even sure much of how my own social life operates would be possible without Facebook, or some other form of social networking. There are those who would go on and on about how you’re not really “friends” with those 350+ Facebook users, so you’re really only deluding yourself, but I think that’s being cynical and snotty, as well as missing the point. Who says that you have to be super-close and in regular contact with anyone you’d ever call a friend or acquaintance? What’s wrong with having that connection there so that it’s there at a time when you’d want to use it? Maybe I’m out of touch, but I’ve never heard a SINGLE PERSON EVER use their number of “Friends” on Facebook as a bragging point.
But what about the improper and over-usage of the site? Isn’t it a legitimate concern that people aren’t socializing face-to-face anymore, that more and more of people’s lives are being lived out on the internet?
Sure, that’s concerning, alright. Every time I go to the mall, I’m shocked at how empty the place is. I’m amazed that NO ONE ever seems to go out to dinner with their friends anymore, or go to a park on a nice day, or go see a movie, or go to a baseball game, or just get together at a coffee shop to talk. No sir, I don’t see any of that at all. The people I do see are just agenda-laden with their blinders on, trying to get the stuff done they have to get done so they can get back to Facebook to “spend time” with their “friends.”
Have you noticed the sarcasm? Because you’re swimming in it.
Now I have laughed at the sight of a row of people in a coffee shop all on their laptops with headphones on, but let’s rewind society to before laptops and Facebook and the internet. What would they have been doing then? Probably not sharing friendly conversation with perfect strangers with reckless abandon. They’d probably be reading the paper, or a book, or getting their coffee to go so they can be on their way to some place that has something for them to do on their own. Nowadays, that “thing for them to do on their own” actually involves interacting with some people on some level. So what was that thing about people not connecting anymore?
So there we are; I hope I’ve made my point. The world’s not falling apart at the seams because people are on the internet. No one that has a grasp on reality depends on status updates as their actual human contact, or thinks that 500 Facebook friends actually means that they’re superior to someone with 200 friends, or has replaced time with friends in person 100% with Facebook Chat. Things have just changed recently, and it’s fun to shake your fist at something popular.