Tuesday, April 05, 2016

IS IT SOCIAL, OR ANTI-SOCIAL NETWORKING?



Social networking: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and myriad others. These internet sites and applications fall under this rubric on the basis that they facilitate social interactions between people, and therefore, one would assume, draw us closer together. 

But I wonder.  Does Facebook really connect us with other people? Do we interact socially on Facebook more than we otherwise would? I tend to think not.

Look around you. If you go into a coffee shop, walk around a park, watch people everywhere you go, how many are interacting with people around them, and how many have their attention on a screen? I once sat in a large Starbucks with my cousin Gary arguing politics, debating great global themes, telling funny stories - all while sipping coffee. I looked around the immense room filled with customers at tables and stuffed chairs and couches. Gary and I were the only people actually talking to each other; the rest were each focused on a smartphone, tablet or laptop in front of them.  It would not surprise me if some of them were in a texting exchange with the person next to them! 

I’ve had a Twitter account for a few years, although I have still not figured out the purpose of and reason for Twitter to exist (with the exception of instances where masses of people can be organized or stay informed about unfolding events). When I occasionally open Twitter, I marvel at how much time certain people spend tweeting. Do they have time for anything else? 

I use Facebook. In the past few weeks, I have purposefully not opened the Facebook app, and I don’t miss it. For me, the greatest benefit of Facebook is to keep in touch with people I otherwise would not see very often. I have also reconnected with people from my past. This is good. 

But here is my issue with Facebook: unless I open it at least several times a day, I will miss a lot. And so when I only open it once in awhile, there is a tendency to keep scrolling down in case I missed something important, or interesting. And yes, there are a number of posts that are important or interesting, but there are many more posts that are kitty cats, dogs, funny “posters” and witty sayings, and links - lot and lots of links to articles and videos and photos and……more time diverters. 

I have been guilty of posting this stuff; oh yes I have. I have posted hundreds of my photos because I want to share them. But what is the real purpose of this? Is it to see how many “likes” I get? How many comments I get? Do people like me? Am I popular? Do they compliment me? 

If this is what social networking is all about, maybe I don’t need it. Maybe the novelty has worn thin for me. Maybe, just maybe, I would do all the other things I keep wanting to do but just can’t - or don’t - find the time for. 

A few weeks ago I thought about making a cardboard sign on which I printed the words: “Let’s have a conversation!” and then holding it up while sitting alone at a table in Starbucks or some other neighborhood place. The idea, of course, would be to engage my neighbors, most of whom I don’t know, in a real conversation. Social Networking! No screens allowed! I still might try this.

The internet has spawned amazing technologies, including the smartphones, tablets, laptops and other computers and all the apps that go with them. Many times I feel it is too much. The Googles, Facebooks, Twitters, Apples of the world know too much about me, bombard me with too many ads, try to rule every moment of my life, ostensibly to improve my life. After all, if I didn’t have internet social networking at my fingertips, would I be doomed to a solitary and lonely existence? 

I’m wondering what the next paradigm shift will be in internetting (yes, I made up a word)? Will we continue to be used more and more as vessels of data to be sold and bought by ever-expanding corporations? Or will the geeks of the world figure out a more democratic internet that helps us use our time wisely between the real and virtual worlds? 

And yes, this blog is a virtual conversation. I would truly prefer to sit with other people, sipping coffee or wine, and have this discussion. Perhaps I can initiate a multi-party on-line video discussion group that would include people I know all over the world. Now that would be fun!


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