Facebook, twitter and Knowing People
I’m struggling with this topic right now. Half of me just wants to post a link to Tim’s blog earlier this week and type a single word: “yes,” but the whole point of this arrangement is to give you multiple perspectives on a topic, so I can’t do that in good conscience. (But really, if you haven’t read his post on the subject yet, stop reading whatever nonsense it is I’m spewing and do so. )
My generation is an interesting case study as far as social media like facebook and twitter is concerned. The first few years of our lives were lived in a world where such things did not exist, yet for the majority of us, social media is now a piece of our everyday life. You know, even this blog could be considered social media. Many of us (college-age students) scarcely go a day without updating facebook. Every person we know knows our whereabouts at all times because of twitter. In short we have access to a powerful tool ostensibly for strengthening interpersonal relationships, but whether any relationships are strengthened seems an unsure thing at best.
What is a relationship at heart? In my mind, a relationship is the act of knowing a person and in turn being known. There are three keys to this definition. First, a relationship involves two people; more than that and it’s group dynamics rather than a relationship. Second, a relationship involves knowing somebody rather than knowing about them. Third, knowing is an action. None of these are encouraged by facebook and its ilk.
Social media encourages large collections of people to interact with people on a superficial level rather than the one-to-one interactions required for a relationship. The second part of that proceeds from the first. Think about the most meaningful conversations you’ve had–the one’s that delve deepest into who life the world and everything and even change you a little bit. Were any of those conversations with a group of people? I’m willing to bet that very few were. When in a group of people, there are entirely different pressures. One is expected to be jocular and witty; in a word, one is expected to be shallow. With just two people, it can be similar, but it can also be–and is much more likely to be–deeper and more meaningful.
It’s not that social media makes these kind of one-to-one interactions possible, but it certainly doesn’t encourage them. Every action we make in the normal course of using social media seems like narcissism aimed at drawing compliments. I’m not sure that even ascends to the level of group interaction.
The difference between knowing about somebody and knowing them is hard to delineate. But in general, if the person in question is aware of some piece of knowledge you have about them, you know the person in that piece of knowledge; if he is unaware, you know about the person. Because almost everything on social media is simply broadcast to every person one knows, almost all knowledge gleaned from social media is knowledge one knows about people rather than ways one knows people. So social media doesn’t encourage relationships in this way, either.
The most important piece of all of this is that the knowing we were talking about above is active rather than passive. When one knows a friend, he knows him because he’s made an effort to do so. He’s asked questions of his friend, gone places with him, done stuff with him, and generally lived a life intertwined in some way with that of his friend. Do I even need to point out that this is precisely the opposite of what social media does?
I hope this post doesn’t seem overly critical of social media, but I do strongly believe that it does not accomplish the purpose of strengthening relationships unless used in a manner specifically tailored to do so. It’s good for many other things, though probably not in the quantities I and others my age use it, but relationships between people are not one of those things.
Facebook intentionally. Tweet intentionally. Live intentionally.