This post is intended as a bit of a comeback to the anti-social networking rants I keep seeing on Facebook.* I’m writing in particular about the personal use of Facebook. While I’ll readily admit that there are downsides to any new technology, for me, the positives of social networking sites for personal use far outweigh the negatives. So here they are:
~Personalities: My relatives are people?! This is probably self-evident. Yet, I (and I think a lot of us) never really thought about my elders as being actual people, with flaws, skills, opinions, triumphs, failures, and stories. Granted, I may have been better off knowing about some of the wacky political leanings of some of my loved ones, but I’m willing to know a little too much in order to know them as people.
~Distance: I can’t have dinner with my sisters, or ride the carousel with my godsons. But I can read about it later, and despite the time difference, I have conversations about what went down via comments and instant messages.
~Shyness: I was already really shy. Contrary to many of the anti-networking rants, the Internet didn’t make me a social recluse. I was already the chick who brings a book to weddings and ditches parties thirty minutes into the shindig. Forcing face to face contact tends to make me clam up or put on a show. By removing myself somewhat, I can relax, and ease into social interactions via written comments, messaging, etc.
~Think–>Speak (write). We all say things we don’t mean, but, at least for me, I have much more luck explaining myself, being kind, and expressing myself clearly, when I write things out. I edit them. I think about the sources of my opinions, and the context in which they’re being received by those around me. I’m sure some people really don’t think before they hit “Enter,” but I do. And I think a lot of other people do, too.
~Information changes really quickly these days. How many phone numbers do you remember now, as opposed to ten years ago? The number is probably far smaller. People get new phone numbers, addresses, email address, etc pretty often. Social networking sites let you keep in touch, advertise your new info, and make sure that you don’t accidentally leave people out.
~Photos: I have friends and loved ones who hail from countries where internet access and use isn’t as common as it is in North America. One friend, whose parents are elderly, has lived in North America for almost ten years, now. His parents don’t use the internet, and although he calls them every week, he is still in for a major shock every time he visits. Recently, he started mailing them photos of himself every once in a while, but they can’t send photos back. It makes me appreciate the photographic connection I have with my family and friends via Facebook. I see the little moments in their lives, as well as the big ones. In addition, since posting photos to Facebook has become so prevalent, my family members actually take a lot more photos! Their kids will have a better record of their childhoods, too.
~Planning: It’s not easy to sync up schedules with my big family. When I come to visit, it’s rarely for more than a week or so. Thinking of things to do, letting everyone know the whens and wheres — we use social networking sites to facilitate a LOT of this planning. Consequently, when I am in town, I actually get more face time with them than I would if this were not the case!
~Potential new friends. It’s a pretty common story. You meet someone new, and you think you might want to be friends. But either: a) the contact is never made. Maybe you didn’t get their email/phone, or you forgot for a while and then feel like it’s too late. Or, b) you succeed in making the effort (or responding to their efforts), and then realize that this person is probably not someone you want to spend a whole lotta time with. As for me, A happens more often than B, but they’re still both pretty common. Facebook lets me to keep up with a potential friend, to feel out whether or not we might have a connection (or a real disconnect!). Then I can proceed at a more natural pace. I can include them in general invites, ask them out for an activity in which we seem to share an interest, etc.
~Branch out with old friends: I’ve been a denizen of the ‘Net for years. Some of my closest friendships started online (some people, I’ve never even met face to face!). However, when I started making friends online, it was because we were in the same Yahoo! Group. Thus, our friendship was pretty much predicated on our common interest in a given topic. Facebook has really allowed me to flesh out my friendships, and find a connection beyond our specific shared interest.
~Birthdays: Last but not least, BIRTHDAYS! I have trouble remembering my partner’s birthday, let alone those of my friends, cousins, aunts, etc. Posting a birthday wish on someone’s account is free, it’s easy, and –yep — it’s still genuine. When it’s my birthday, and my wall is filled with well wishes, I really appreciate the warm fuzzies I get. Sure, even without the help of Facebook, I know that these people care about me. That little ping on my wall sure feels great, though.
* (Is using Facebook to hate one Facebook ironic? Or is it just self-defeating, like using Freud to discredit Freud?).