Attacking social media is all the rage among the cool kids these days. This involves a great deal of hypocrisy. Studies have shown that many of those who rail against social media use it often.
“Oh, so you use papyrus, eh? Well, relationships were SO much more meaningful when people just used clay tablets. The texture made all the difference. Flat surfaces kill emotions, you know? And while we’re at it, aren’t cuneiforms so much prettier than ideograms? More essential. Zen.’ [extracted from graffiti on a temple wall, higher Nile Valley, dated 3000 BC. Signed with an ideogram readable as ‘HIPSTERETH’]” —Pietro Bonavita, Italian entrepreneur
Attacking social media is all the rage amongst the cool kids these days. Like most moral fashions, this one involves a great deal of hypocrisy. Studies have shown that many of those who rail against social media use it—and use it often—just as many of those who railed against Montreal strip-clubs in the 1950s were caught hanging out in them. Even so, the zeitgeist is what it is, and, as a consequence, saying something nice about Facebook may seem a tad perverse to some. Alas, I ask only that you hear me out.
If social media allows you to keep in touch with family and friends that you have a long history with, then I think it’s an unqualified good. For instance, Facebook has been a total godsend for me and my old friend Rebecca Freeland, as it has allowed us to stay in touch, despite kids and spouses, busy lives and geography. Facebook is also at its best when it facilitates the creation of new friendships. For instance, Anna-Liisa and I met Danielle Faribault online via a mutual friend, Sebastian Furtado. But before long we hung out with her in person and got along famously. Similarly, my wife and I met the philosopher Nassim Nicholas Taleb online (via Facebook), and struck up a delightful correspondence with him. As with Danielle, this quickly led to a desire to meet Nassim in the real world. So we invited him to come up to Montreal. And he did.
There’s nothing strange or novel about these stories. They’re altogether normal. Altogether human. No big break with the past here. No Brave New World. So long as the lion’s share of your online interactions are with people that you’ve met (or would like to meet), all is well. Problems arise, however, when online relationships are divorced from face-to-face relationships; when people use aliases; when people misrepresent themselves online; and, most importantly, when an online relationship is all you’ve ever had with someone—and all you’ve ever wanted.
Facebook can put you in touch with fascinating like-minded people from all over the world. It can create wonderful new connections that at times lead to meaningful friendships. But it can also create connections that probably shouldn’t have existed in the first place, connections which would have fizzled in minutes if they had happened in person. I must confess that this has happened to me a few times. But, truth be told, it doesn’t depress me. I accept it cheerfully as an opportunity cost of the new medium.
—John Faithful Hamer, From Here (2015)
Originally published at Committing Sociology. Reprinted with permission.
Photo courtesy of Ban Kanj.