Elizabeth Bernstein is the latest among several columnists worrying that her online social network might destroy her real-life one, with complete disregard for the illogic of that.
I think blaming Facebook for the fact that you or your friends may not take the time to actually meet is a particularly grand abdication of personal responsibility, even for a time that has made that into a fine art. And about the people who don't have time to keep in touch but have the time to update their pages - well, if they didn't want to call you, they would have found other things to do anyway.
The example in the article of someone being upset at being de-friended by his ex is just bizarre – isn’t that the natural thing to do when you’ve just ended a relationship? I’ve hit the “remove friend” button to celebrate far smaller endings! A jiltee keeping too close an eye on the activities of the jilter and other kinds of stalkers are not new. Going online is just another way of doing it. As for intrusion, you can choose not to see people’s quiz results or photo albums and who gets to see what on your page. You’re not really at the mercy of anything, so all the angst is a little overdone.
One of the points in the article is that people can get more aggressive and indiscriminate when they’re typing than they would face-to-face. This is true in some cases, but it’s also worth noting that someone whose social abilities break down before a keyboard probably didn’t have too many of those to begin with. The couple who bickers on an FB wall are likely to do so in your living room too. The person who updates his status with flossing details would probably also share this information to your face, as would the one who wants to talk about last night’s dream. These people were always in your life – you were forced to listen to them at work, in the supermarket, at the bus stop, on the train, in the gym, lift or lobby. Now you also hear them online. The difference is that you’re free to ignore the status updates. In fact, if you didn’t log on every thirty seconds, you wouldn’t even have to know they’re there.
FB probably doesn’t bother me because I have a stunted social conscience and tend to turn off social contact like a tap when I’ve had enough of it. But apart from that, I frankly enjoy it! When your siblings are scattered around the world and your closest friends are far away, Facebook is a magic window. I’m at a point in my life where most of my preferred phone numbers have area codes and time zones. I can’t make an international call just to tell someone what someone else said this morning, nor is sharing everyday trivialities over email a good idea. It’s the worst thing about long-distance relationships, a hollowness that comes of never having enough small things to fill it. To me, this is what the status update, wall post or photo comment is about.
Perhaps the reason Facebook inspires so much love-hate press is because - ironically - it's a pretty accurate representation of our "real" social world, and it makes us uncomfortable to see it in all its ugliness.
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