Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Connections in the Facebook Age

A couple weeks ago, Kyle Cupp vanished from Facebook. It's a move I can sympathize with, and various friends have taken it before. Today things calmed down enough around here that it occurred to me he might have written a post about it. Given the quality of his recent short story (and the fact that my own recurring temptations to cut down my online presence all have to do with making more writing time for The Novel) I wondered if he was clearing the decks for some big writing project.

Kyle did have a post, and his reason for leaving Facebook turned out to be everyday, though also familiar:
I’m still thinking it through. I made my decision hastily, but so far I feel better for it. Perhaps the stage just got too big for me. Like a Peter Jackson adaptation, I got stretched too thin. I used to disagree with the philosopher Paul Ricoeur’s belief that one can have only a few friends, but now I’m thinking there’s truth to it. At least for me.

Every day I’d scroll through my feed after making sure that the page showed all activity and not only the top stories, but as my eyes passed over each status update, I rarely read every word or paused to think about the people telling me something about their lives. It dawned on me this past week that, cruel as it sounds, I just don’t care too much about what my almost 600 friends have to say on a daily basis. Now that I’ve deactivated my connections with them, I don’t for the most part feel as though I’m missing something special, even though the network was the only place where I had any connection with a lot of old acquaintances.
Being on a conservative temperament I have the occasional pause about the nature of friendship in the Facebook world myself. Is a world of "likes" and "shares" and "friend requests" a world of real human connections, or are we increasingly isolated even amongst all our "social" media? Also, there's the simple fact that I sometimes spend too much time on Facebook. In a very busy phase of life, the free time I have (say, holding the new baby when he decides to be up late and at night and MrsDarwin needs a rest) is often when it's not practical to head out and socialize with people in more traditional ways, so when I do have odd scraps of free time I'll find myself constantly refreshing to see if "anyone says anything".

I don't see myself leaving Facebook, though. For one thing, I actually value quite a bit being able to keep up with far away friends and relatives that I'd otherwise seldom hear from. Sure, the conversation may consist of re-posting cat pictures at times, but it's better than nothing.

Then, also, for those of us who are intellectual and religious minorities, online life provides a way to socialize with people with similar interests and experiences. Sure, one could either seek out a real life like-minded ghetto, live in isolation, or conform, but I think there are good reasons to prefer getting some of my socializing online to any of those options.

The online world can be a pretty shallow place at times, but frankly, so can the in person world. I often find myself comparing my daily online interactions unfavorably to deep in person conversation that, if I pause to think about it, I don't actually have the chance to have all that frequently with people other than my wife. Sure, it would be great if my options were either to have deep conversations on a daily basis with people in person, or else interact with people in a more ephemeral way on Facebook. That would be an easy decision! But the realistic fact is, I'm not passing up any chances to walk more with people in real life because I'm too busy online. I get to have conversation over morning coffee with a friend every few weeks, I occasionally have a chance to catch up with neighbors on the street who have similar interests, but all of that is very occasional. There are no constant conversations by the village well that I'm passing up to spend time online. And come to that, some of the most enjoyable conversations that I've had in person in recent years have been with people that I met and primarily interact with online.

None of this is meant to be an argument that those who leave Facebook, or the greater online world, should come back. I continue to have a certain admiration for people with the ability to simplify in that way. But the fact of the matter is that for me, this it is one of the neighborhoods that I live in.


bearing said...


Jenny said...

"But the realistic fact is, I'm not passing up any chances to walk more with people in real life because I'm too busy online."


I know it is cool these days to hate Facebook, but it is one of the few places I get to talk to people.

Renee said...

It works out for me, because we crowd source local conversations. If your FB list has a good amount of friends and neighbors, it is fine.

bearing said...

Key to me is keeping my FB friends list pared down. It is a very different experience if you have 600 "friends" and are using it more as a publishing platform, I will bet.

I need to cull mine a little bit soon.

Jenny said...

While I do enjoy FB (and I do), it is the perfect Pavlovian system with random reinforcement to get us to keep hitting refresh again and again.

Kate said...

I agree with Bearing. Last summer I decided to cut my FB friend list down to something close to Dunbar's number. (My goal was 180; I had twice that number when I began). The people I kept were all, without exception, people I would gladly find myself talking with in a corner as I hide from the crowd at a party. :-) I cut a lot of people who were on my list solely out of a sense of obligation. I cut people I never interacted with.

One of the benefits of this was that, almost immediately, my interactions on FB became more fruitful. Because I saw more of fewer people, I retained more of what they were posting, and subsequently had stronger connections with them and more to say to them. It's been a really good change.

BettyDuffy said...

Plus, I hear all the kids have left Facebook for Snapchat--so the grownups finally have their own room.