After hearing about it for months, this weekend I joined facebook. As advertised, the site is indeed an assload of fun, with all sorts of little games and other playful ways to interact with your friends. In fact, I think that it’s electronic crack. I had no profile as of midnight Thursday night, and then stayed up until dawn putting my profile together, sending out friend invitations, and, as friend’s accepted my friend requests, putting out little pokes to their profiles. I then woke up three hours later to move my car for streetcleaning, and, not working right now, promptly hopped on facebook for hours again. By seven thirty pm, I had had 100 friends, and my profile was full of fun little applications and features.
After three days of indulging, I am thinking that I may soon set limits on and rules for myself about how much I use it. In the three days that I have been constantly on it, however, facebook has so far been endlessly engaging and diverting. I find that, while on it, I can lose track of time and of the outside world for hours at a time. It seems to me like a fun buzz that doesn’t seem to go so deep, however. It has a constantly exciting fun sexy flirty sheen to it, but without anything too actually engaging. It also seems like it doesn’t seem to be a space for the relatively deep self-revelation and exploration of topics that some other social networking sites seem to have, since I haven’t noticed any way to have a blog with lengthy pieces of writing on facebook. Also, the group discussion boards are unthreaded, which I think limits depth of engagement on a single topic.
Some of my friends who look like they’ve been spending the most time on facebook, buzzing about sending little pokes and messages, are people who I perceive as most looking for depth in human interaction and real caring in their lives right now. As fun as facebook is, I wonder if my friends are actually getting that much on it that is really nourishing them (or, since I have joined, if I have been).
Clearly, social networking has value in keeping people related, in providing regular contact with the people in one’s life, in keeping one somewhat up-to-date about what is happening for people one might not otherwise see with any degree of frequency. At the very least, there are many ways to spend time on a computer that are entertaining but a lot less humanly engaging than social networking.
But I noticed years ago that you can have fun cyber-interactions with folks that don’t actually seem to make a huge difference in the texture or depth of the feeling the next time I see someone in the real world. Even emails (much less fun li’l social networking communications) often don’t seem to really take a relationship deeper. The thing that seems to really open up and deepen relationships are real time interactions, especially if it involves something relatively intense : traveling or living together, dating cuddling or otherwise physically touching, getting into altered states together, working on a project together, being a men’s/therapy/personal growth group, or otherwise going through a fire of real life together.
I find that social networking can have people feel more connected than we really are, and to create a false image of who we really are, because it allows us to choose with conversations we chose to participate in, pretend that we get along with everyone, and, generally, take our time in our responses to people. Real world interactions are more complicated, but, in the end, more powerful. I think that there is something more rich and nourishing about seeing people in person, being able to see them, touch them, and smell them, and even to feel the ambivalence and tension and complications that so many human relationships seem to have. As much as it can be more work, I like looking people in the eye, feeling how I feel around them, empathically intuiting how they seem to be doing, having a real encounter. That’s why I find the cyber (email, etc) question “how are you doing” to be difficult, and do my best to avoid answering without being rude – instead of sitting and typing a bunch of letters, I would rather answer in person, eye-to-eye, or at worst over phone.
I doubt that I understand more about the truth of the world I live in by seeing what people write on these things, compared to riding a scooter through the jungle in Laos, going on a long hike with a friend, or at even going over to a friend’s house and had a beer and asked them to play me some of their favorite music. And I say that as someone who is often more comfortable interacting with folks behind the safety of a computer screen, and who someone who sometimes has to push himself out the door to go to socialize.
A friend of mine told me that she thinks that social networking has a spiritual aspect to it, in that, as I understood her thinking, you deconstruct who you know yourself to be, and create a new “self” from scratch. I feel the opposite, however. First off, I think that, when I am on social networking sites, I’m often in kind of a heady buzz, and am out of touch with the present moment, my breath, my body sensations, and all the other things that we Buddhists try to stay in conscious contact with. When I a get off these sites, I sometimes feel plugged in and my heart warmed by the people in my life, but I also sometimes feel like I used to feel when I watched TV – kinda full and buzzy, but kinda empty and unfulfilled. I guess that a big factor there is what kind of mind I bring to party when I log on – am I looking to deepen my relationship with folks and do something meaningful, or to distract myself by surfing around.
Vis-à-vis a sense of self, I don’t think that you can learn that much about who a person really is from their social networking profile. I see the “about me” sections of some people who I know in real life, and sometimes I’m all like, “yup – that’s pretty much how they are”, but other people’s, I’m all like, “Pshaaaaw – that’s how they *want* to see themselves, that’s not really that much how they are.” Sometimes, I think that a profile and what people post are exercises in presenting an idealized made-up sense of self, more than in presenting the messy glory of one’s real self. It’s like that old saying, evaluate a person based on what they do, not on what they say. That’s why my tribe.net “about me” section used to have some self-revealing statements (like ” I always want to know what makes other people tick”, which is true), but now has a bunch of Chuck Norris-style crap about how I shave my tattoos with a battle axe. The thing there is, you wanna get to know me, hang out with me or talk to me in person. That’s what’s real. As far as I can see, most anything else that I say, or that anyone else says, in their profile or in an online comment is mostly a PR spin.