Sunday, January 9, 2011

Facing Facts about Facebook, (and more.)

We all know that Facebook has changed the way we socialize, communicate, connect. But let’s back that statement up and take restate it as it really is. *Ahem. (Take two.) We all know that Internet Socializing Networks have changed the way we interact with one another. Facebook has become the “Kleenex” of the Internet. A blanket term because “facial tissue” seems just too difficult to say. But truth is, if it we weren’t calling it Facebook, we would be calling it something else, be it Myspace,, or ???

CLICK TO WATCH ME "FRIENDFACE" (embedding was disabled.)

Facebook has been receiving a lot of Flack about destroying the old natures and customs in which we used to socialize, especially in our children and adolescents. But is it really so detrimental? Or is it just different?


In the past fifty years a lot has changed. Both parents work, many parents are divorced, meals are provided in a greasy sacks, banks are open seven days a week, stores are open twenty four hours a day, go go go, rush rush rush, fly fly fly… STOP.

This is no longer Mayberry, people. No one has time to saunter down to the ol’ fishin’ hole to say hi to Bob and ask how painting his picket-fence went last week. I hate to be the one to enlighten you to this horrifying fact of our modern day, but this is the truth of it; we don’t have time to REALLY connect anymore. The same way we rely on our grocer’s freezer section to pre-prepare the ingredients for our "home-cooked" meals, we have come to rely on facebook to make friendships simplified. It’s a tool. Our lives have become jumbled messes, people. We need to organize things. What better way to chart out and label our connections?

Instead of making a phone call to each of our friends every day, we click on a computer screen and let it tell us how each is doing in one easy to access location.

According to the facebook pressroom, the average facebook user harbors 130 friends. Now keep in mind this is strictly an average. I know that I myself hold more than 200 active connections. (And this is after deleting a fair amount.) I took a bit of time and looked at a few random friend’s pages to observe their numbers, and I have found for different age groups the numbers can escalate quite dramatically. Those under 40 years of age had more than those over 40. Males, typically seemed to have more than the females. And some friends had upwards of 500 active connections.

Now for some math.

Let’s say, for sanity’s sake, that you have 200 friends. One year on this planet Earth, holds 365 days. That means even if we didn't work forty hours a week, it is statistically impossible to spend quality one on one time more than ONE day per annum with each of those friendships. In our rush-go-fly society, if we are to keep in touch with those we care about we need a more efficient means of communication. Enter the great status update.

In Real life.

Fact is, you KNOW this many people and MORE. I’m sure each of you reading this can think of at least FIVE friends, coworkers, or relatives whom you do not have connected to your Facebook account. I do. Hell, I would have to surmise an accurate guesstimate would be only about half of my life’s connections are actually on my social networking sites. I’ve heard many people say after looking at their list of friends, “How the hell do I know so many people?” …Did you catch all I said about our busy busy lives before?

You know this many people from those 3 jobs you’ve been holding down, the customers you serve, church, soccer, school, family reunions, boy scouts, book club…. Our go-go-go resulted in meet-meet-meet. And one of the most damaging phrases I think I’ve heard spawned by this facebook phenomenon concerning all these people you've met-met-met is, “In real life.”

There seems to be some confusion in what a “virtual” friend versus a “real” friend is. And perhaps people need some reminding that the people you are communicating with on the internet are REAL PEOPLE. They are not Artificial intelligence. They are people you (I HOPE) met in "real life". They are people, living and breathing, and going about their lives same as you.

I remember once upon a time, when I first learned what a telephone was and its function. I knew it connected me to my Grandma. But it took me a while to grasp the notion that Grandma did not sit idly all day at the telephone waiting for it to ring like an answering service. She did not cease to exist when I hung up the phone. She was alive, cooking, watching tv, talking with other people on the phone. Grandma was a real person, not just when in my presence or after I dialed, but all the time.

I had adults that helped me learn this. By watching them and following their lead, I learned quickly that Grandma was still alive after the phone was hung up. I believe the fears we hold that our younger generations are going to have social deficiencies are unfounded. They are going to adapt, (having been exposed to it early on), far easier than an adult whom is just now attempting to cope with the new formats of friendship. But the faster adults can adapt the better to help our children through the questions that may arise for them.

I’m afraid with any introduction to new technology that impacts our socialization, there is a learning curve. But it disturbs me now to hear grown adults slip and say “They’re my friend in real life too.” I might make a suggestion. If someone is not your friend in “real life,” I suggest you not give out your personal contact information so easily. They have no business being on your facebook if you can not acknowledge them as living breathing flesh, and it can be dangerous to have them privileged to your intimate information.

There are plenty of arguments on similar subjects against facebook. Many involving privacy statements and Facebook giving out phone numbers. Like this article here.

A new ritual.

And finally… I think one of the biggest changes to the social structure of friendships is “ritual.” Many of us remember a time when you met a person, and if you liked them you continued to speak with them. Friendships used to fade in and out of our lives like stars. It’s hard to tell the exact moment a star REALLY appears in that twilight hour. Just as when the dawn ebbs in, it’s difficult to pinpoint when it’s gone again. The transition is subtle. People grow, change, and drift apart; this is going to happen. And there is always a hope that night will come again and bring back a few of those forgotten stars back. But now, we have a ritual. “Unfriend.”

We didn’t have to think about it before. That gently fade of dusk and twilight has turn into a flip of a light switch. A flick-click stroke of the keyboard and they are no longer your friend. Or, vice versa, ARE. Friendships and connections are more than ever in our consciousness and control. Instead of happening to us, we make a decision. And this is something we are going to have to learn to adjust to.

In recent days, I have gone through my friends list. I cleared out a lot of dead wood. People I once were close with that I don’t talk to much anymore, or people that have become rather malevolent with me, or… It isn’t anything personal. The star has faded at some point and it’s just time to flip the switch and acknowledge the fade.. When I announced something about my doing this act, I had a plethora of requests from friends flood in to NOT delete them and pleas of apologies for not staying more active in the friendship. But facebook IS a way of staying active in a friendship, via status updates, notes, messages, and picture sharing. There's no reason to apologize for being busy. WE ALL ARE.

Hence, I am taking this moment to clarify. Facebook has some GREAT benefits.

I am a writer. As such, I depend on networking and connections to self promote or ask for advice, and to even just to be exposed to human nature for the sake of experiences to draw off of for stories. I am not deleting everyone under the sun; that would be silly. The same goes for acting. There are many people I have done shows with that I will not delete, despite the fact that we aren’t very close-knit friends, on the simple basis that if we do another show together, this is the best form of communication if a question should arise on rehearsal schedules, or to gather info an when the next audition might be. Again, it’s a TOOL. Busy busy busy!

But more to the point, just because we haven’t talked or hung out in forever doesn’t mean our star has faded either. Chances are, (especially if you’re one of my friends living in Germany, or Tennessee, or Canada, or (hell let’s face it) even Milwaukee counts as often as I get up that way, Facebook is likely the only thing keeping the connection between us alive. I’m not going to sever it.

But if I scroll through my friends list, look at a name, think to myself… “Who?” And have to look at your pictures to try to figure out how the hell I know you. That may be a sign you don’t need to be on my page. Or, if there is no reason for me to suspect that you and I will ever be friends again… say, because you suddenly stopped talking to me without explanation and bad mouth me to people… Why would I continue to give you access to my page or want to see yours? For the most part, it’s really nothing personal to be deleted and it’s something we must learn isn’t to be taken offense to.

AGAIN CLICK TO WATCH ME. SHORT, FUNNY, POINTED. (embedding was disabled.)

Facebook is a phenomenal tool to reconnect and peek into the lives that had touched us at some point in history and say hello. One of my childhood friends whom I haven’t spoken with in near 20 years is on here. My third grade teacher and reason I became a writer I also was able to track down. These are examples of people near and dear to my heart that I’m grateful for the opportunity to check in and smile that things are going well for them. These are stars that will never fade, but couldn’t find for a long long while. Facebook brought them back into line of vision. Something I’m incredibly happy for.

In Conclusion.

So, like with anything in this crazy world of ours, I’m going to say there is balance. Negatives, and positives. I keep hearing horror stories about how facebook has ruined relationships, (but I can’t believe the relationship was all that healthy or mature to begin with if all it took was a couple of status updates to dissolve it.) And I keep coming across drivel about information being leaked, but I’ll say again, if you don’t want your phone number given out, don’t give it to the internet, genius!

But the positives are undeniable. We need a tool to cope with our fast paced lifestyles. The connections may not be as wholesome as taking that stroll down to greet Bob at the ol’ fishin’ hole… But ask yourself, just how many connections would you have left at all if not for sites like these?

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