: Facebook has made conversations so much easier: but is it replacing intimacy and authenticity?/Image courtesy of arztsamui at freedigitalphotos.net
There is no doubt that technology such as the internet, mobile phone and skype have rendered communication easier and have enabled relationships to be facilitated when loved ones live overseas, not to mention having a wealth of information available at our fingertips.
I was sitting at a university lecture two days ago. We were given, as is quite typical a five minute break in between the deliverance of the lecture to ‘have a break’. The friend that I usually sit with couldn’t make it that day. I remember looking either way of me, thinking that an informal “Hi” and some sort of brief conversational chat about how fellow students were enjoying the subject might be possible. Well, I looked to the student sitting to the left of me and she seemed one hundred percent engrossed in a mobile phone text conversation she appeared to be having. The exact same difficulty rendered attempts at conversation awkward and practically inappropriate when the student to the other side of me was just as fixated on ‘facebook’.
At a tertiary level, it is unavoidably more difficult to form friendships than it was at school. Both the size of the classes (where up to 250 students in one lecture room is not uncommon) and the didactic rather than interactive nature of learning don’t facilitate the ease of meeting let alone getting to know other students.
However, I thought to myself, just say there wasn’t such devices like mobiles and facebook. I don’t believe many students actually refer to the lecture materials in the breaks we are given. Perhaps, we would be forced to actually (shock, horror) talk to one another!
The facebook phenemon engages people for an unbelievable length of time. Yes, I do appreciate its utility, entertainment value, and how it has facilitated communication with friends one normally doesn’t get to talk to because they might live a long distance away, you don’t normally see them, or talking on the phone becomes expensive.
However, what is most interesting to me is just how long, and how often people stay on facebook. For one thing, and I am guilty of this embarrassing fact, I often don’t actually ‘know’ some of the people I am ‘friends’ with! For example, I will get a ‘friend request’ from someone who is only known to me because I am friends with one of their friends: however I don’t know them personally. Sometimes, I’ll get a request from someone from India I don’t know at all. For some reason, I ‘accept’ their friendship!
However, to be honest, there’d only be about ten people I know well enough to be personally interested in what they have been doing, and that I interact with in an actual meaningful way.
However, it’s amazing the information people consider interesting enough to put on facebook. I won’t be a hypocrite: I put boring information about my cat (it’s interesting to me, but I don’t think to anyone else!,) and the like. However, for some people, it’s like a constant update…what they had for breakfast, and lunch….and what housework they happen to be doing. Hey I probably do it too… and let’s face it, it’s not really a forum for an interchange of deep and meaningful conversation, about existential angst and the like. Of course, this is an extreme example: we don't need to talk about this sort of thing, but we probably filter and adapt and modify ourselves for the facebook forum, to the degree that we can even be inauthentic without realising it.
However, when I was in this lecture, and contemplating how nice it would be to actually talk to someone, it was amazing how long fellow students, and I guess the general population are %%transfixed” by facebook. What also amazes me is those people who have 600 friends on facebook. I wonder how well if at all they know these people. I don’t want to be a hypocrite: out of the 150 or so ‘friends’ I have on facebook, I’d say about 20 are friends, 50 are acquaintances, 30 are friends of friends, and the rest, well this is embarrassing but I don’t know them at all.
Once, I decided to fix this what I saw as insincere behaviour, and ‘defriended’ those who yes, I didn’t actually know. Well, I got not many, but a suprising number of unfriendly even abusive messages like I had personally insulted them. I even felt so bad I ‘refriended’ them.
Inserting ‘like’ into sentences approximately three times per sentence is pretty typical of uni students. It’s very sad but I admit at 38 years of age, I find myself speaking in this way too. Because I too have succumbed to the texting and facebook age, when it comes to expressing myself verbally, talking aloud to someone, I find myself embarrassingly inarticulate. I wonder whether this ‘like’ insertion has something to do with the fact that we are talking less and less face to face, and more by electronic means. We even express our emotions by the wide range of emoticons available. There are a whole lot of abbreviations that I’ve had to familiarise myself with: LMAO …the universal “lol”.
I met with my dearest friend the other day. And it was so refreshing. Real emotions are easier and it was also easier to be authentic. What I said wasn’t there for the rest of the world to know. It was close, intimate, and wonderful.
One particular aspect about our preoccupation with technology to communicate, is that without knowing it, I anyway have felt unimportant in a relationship when I am say, out having a pre-arranged ‘coffee date’ and who ever I am with actually spends half their time texting somebody else. I don’t know if they just don’t perceive this, or don’t care about our relationship that much, but I think “is this something they have to do right now?” and even “why are we having coffee together in the first place: would they rather be texting someone by themselves?”. I have not had this experience just once, but I feel hurt and well just not important to the other person when this happens.
There is no doubt that these technological advances have made conversation easier, especially with those say overseas, or a long distance away, when calling or seeing them in person is expensive and impractical. Texting, emailing and facebooking are easy and convenient ways of letting people know we are thinking of them. Jokes and sharing photos, and group invitations are made easier.
However, try perhaps for one day, having a ‘no mobile, no internet day’. Instead, make a goal of calling a friend, just one even, or meeting them for a coffee. I recently did this, and well, it just felt more real, more genuine and I felt closer to that person then after 6 months of only communicating by text.
Certainly I am not discouraging these ways of communicating which has made it so much easier and more convenient. However, have a ‘old fashioned face-to-face’ day. You might enjoy it far more than you envisage, and so might your friend!