Talking About Facebook and Twitter

facebook

I reluctantly joined Facebook back in September. I’ve been on it for like 9 months now, and I suppose you could say I’m a little less antagonistic about it than I once was… like when I wrote this article back in 2007, or even this one back in February. I mean, I still have a love/hate relationship with Facebook, but I’m definitely less extreme about it these days.

Facebook is a reality we have to deal with (as well as Twitter… but we’ll get to that in a minute). It’s quickly becoming our preferred mode of communication and a source of many hours of time spent on a weekly and even daily basis. And in keeping with my newly diplomatic approach to Facebook, I have thoughts about both the good and bad aspects of this type of communication.

The Good: Facebook allows you to consolidate a vast majority of friends, family, acquaintances and colleagues in one massive, easy-to-use online Rolodex.

The Bad: Isn’t it a bit strange to reduce all types of “friends” (including best friends, bosses, professors, etc) to just another part of the “friend collection”? Isn’t it strange that everything is so public and shared and mixed… so that my friend from one area of my life can observe and make assumptions about my acquaintances from other areas of my life? Or maybe this is a good thing?

The Good: On Facebook, you can easily share photos, videos, and pretty much anything about yourself that you’d like to share.

The Bad: You don’t have to share anything you don’t want to share. You have complete control over your image, to the point that you can even untag yourself in a photo or remove any comment or unsightly representation of yourself that doesn’t fit with your ideal projection of yourself.

The Good: Facebook is a quick and easy way to schedule events, parties, and social gatherings. It makes it easy to do spontaneous things and allows groups to communicate together more easily.

The Bad: Facebook is too quick and too easy. Whatever happened to the glorious challenge of scheduling, playing phone tag, and figuring out the nuances of group dynamics in a gloriously clunky manner?

The Good: Facebook is an efficient means of promoting yourself or something you like. It allows you to inform vast numbers of people about things that you want them to read, or see, or listen to, and it gives you the opportunity to keep people in the loop as to your life’s important goings on.

The Bad: Do we really need to be tempted to think that our life’s goings on are important and worthy enough to be trumpeted to the entire Facebook world?

The Ugly: Might Facebook be turning us into more prideful narcissists, overly obsessed with our publicized Facebook identity and prone to narrate our lives via mass-transmitted status updates?

Which brings me to Twitter. OH, TWITTER. This is something I have a hard time finding much good in at all. Okay, that’s not true. As a marketing or PR device, or an impersonal means of alerting large groups of people about something important, Twitter is a good tool. But in my experience the majority of people use Twitter as a nauseatingly indulgent means of self branding and pat-on-the-back public self actualization. People love using Twitter to subtly announce their importance (“over 100 emails on my blackberry this morning!”) or suggest something about class distinction (“Oh dang, I just remembered I have to take a Redeye tonight to New York!”). Occasionally someone will tweet an interesting link or thoughtful observation about something, but 90% of them are just shameless self-promotion.

My over-arching concern about all of this stuff is that it is pushing us farther into our own worlds and making us even more individualistic and self-obsessed. There’s a reason why it is FACE-book or MY-Space… these things are all about ME.

In my article, “The Problem of Pride in the Age of Twitter” (Relevant, Jan/Feb 2009), I wrote:

I think that contemporary technologies are nurturing the part of our humanity that strives to be the master of our domain, the sole creator of identity. In former eras and communication environments, our human longing for community and connectivity and the shared creation of meaning was foregrounded. But these days, it seems that everything technology-related is pushing us inward, to the “i” world of iPod, iPhones, iMacs, etc. Under the guise of increasing our levels of connectivity, these technologies are ultimately just tools to help us isolate, insulate, and unshackle from the outmoded constraints of having to answer to anyone other than ourselves.

That remains my concern with these online “extensions of ourselves.” Though they can and are used to cultivate community and interpersonal relationships, they are also tools to aid us in our never-ending quest to be in complete control of our identities. And I’m not sure we need any more help in this quest.

Coming next in the Communication series: Talking About Blogging.

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5 responses to “Talking About Facebook and Twitter

  1. My twitter crowd seems to run between two poles:

    1. people who are genuinely interesting a/o my friends in real life (usually it’s the latter that makes them interesting to me on Twitter)
    2. self-promotional ‘social media gurus’ who are trying to up their follow count for what must business reasons.

    I do my best to never follow the latter. The others are actually interesting to me.

    To me, twitter is like a blog: if I think you’re going to be interesting, I’ll follow you. If it turns out I was wrong, I’ll eventually stop reading.

    Twitter is a nice communication tool–I just don’t get this ‘following thousands of people’ nonsense.

  2. Twitter can be a lot of things – its all how you use it. Most of my friends are using it “to cultivate community and interpersonal relationships,” I do too. Glossing over this isn’t fair.

    I’ve lived in several parts of the country & have friends all over the US that are using Twitter. I can’t tell you how nice it is to be connected with my friends in Oregon, Nashville & NYC that I don’t have the luxury of seeing all the time.

    Not to mention, getting & reading Bible verses throughout the day, reading a daily quote or two from G.K. Chesterton, discovering new music or just having a really good laugh from someone’s tweet – it’s a genuinely useful, good thing in my life.

    Just because you may not understand it or use it, doesn’t mean it’s useless. A statement like “90% of them are just shameless self-promotion” is just unfair and seems reactionary.

  3. Some of your “Bads” for Facebook, to me, don’t really seem all that bad.
    What I don’t like about Facebook? Negative Status Updates. As in, (“So sick of this rainy weather!” or “Can’t believe Obama is stupid enough to release the torture memos.” or just “hates Mondays”). I’m not sure why people on Facebook (and maybe Twitter) feel like a Status Update are a valid excuse to complain and grumble.

  4. I had a Facebook for about a year before I decided to quit. First, I simply used it too much. I understand many people have this foundational problem. I still find ways to fill in “dead time” with internet use, but this time is spent more on the NYTimes website and researching grad school options. Sure some of it’s a waste, but if I need some sort of brain-drain time, it’s going to be better spent reading Hendrick Hertzberg than browsing photos of drunken parties.

    The very way that Facebook (and I assume Twitter) allows private lives to become public is disturbing. In fact, I think it’s terrifying. The trailer for the film “We Live in Public” enlightened me somewhat to this. I’ve not yet seen the film, but the degrading trailer shows enough of what direction our internet age is heading.

    People want their moment of fame. They want to write statuses like “Anthony can’t even believe who won American Idol” or “Anthony is flying to Dubai to see his uncle.” The scary thing is that people–even those who hardly know the poster–read it and take (at least mild) interest.

    You write that your concern is that such internet programs increase individualism and self-obsession. But I see the bigger problem is that people care to read about trivial, personal matters of others. It’s the interest from “friends” who actually care enough to read that “Anthony broke up with Julie” that feeds such posting. We ‘live in public,’ yet our sociability is not improved whatsoever.

    I don’t want to sound like a doomer or anything, but I think Facebook (and I guess Twitter, though I don’t quite ‘get it’) is taking us down the wrong road. What happens when our culture cultivates a whole generation of youngsters who can communicate on the internet but not in person? Youngsters who care about the new car Anthony bought with his open house money but not starvation in their city’s core?

    See the following link for the “We Live in Public” trailer.

  5. …Not to mention that Twitter is kind of damaging to writers. I tried it for a while, but eventually realized it was very seriously breaking down my attention span – I started thinking everything in pithy thoughts of 140 characters or less, and generally organizing my thoughts and observations into short, clipped phrases, instead of coherent sentences. (I’ve now been Twitter-free for about a week, but, man, old habits die hard.)

    Blogs and Facebook allow for paragraphs, at least – Twitter doesn’t care how important the subject is; if you can’t say it in as few characters as “wearing my new blue tie today, am now really hot stuff”, it’s not important to share.

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