The other night I found myself debating the merits and pitfalls of social networking with a group of friends. As always, people seem to fall into one of two camps: there’s the group that thinks Facebook and its ilk are slowly destroying the social fabric, ensnaring people into shadow lives that are only experienced virtually. On the other side are people who think that social networking sites have made it much easier to connect and stay in touch with people, improving their daily existence.
The subject initially came up because of an event I attended recently. “Pop up Magazine” is a one-night only live magazine produced in San Francisco. Like a print mag, it’s divided into “Shorts,” “Features,” etc. For me the most fascinating “feature” of the night was an interview with a former Guantanamo Bay prison guard. Apparently after he was discharged, his stance on things that had happened during his stationing there shifted. The soldier made it a mission to seek out former prisoners and apologize to them- and to find them, he used Facebook. The woman interviewing him asked, “Why Facebook?” And he looked at her as thought she’d asked why he considered using the telephone to call home. Apparently there are numerous FB groups subscribed to by both former guards and prisoners where they interact, swap stories, and try to find common ground.
I found that absolutely fascinating.
Now, I understand the argument against these networking sites. There’s something terribly depressing about seeing a couple tapping away at their various electronic devices in complete silence during dinner- as I witnessed the other night at a restaurant. But for some of us, the social networking tools have filled a void. Could we live without them? Absolutely. But I would miss my virtual water cooler.
Of course, I’m a bit of a rare case. I spend most of my day alone, in total silence. I work best under those circumstances-and I’m not someone who minds being alone. But aside from the UPS guy, without Facebook, my day would be devoid of most social contact.
Maybe that’s not a bad thing (although it does lend itself to bouncing a ball against a wall for hours on end, or typing the same sentence over and over…)
I love the little breaks spent chatting with people online. I get a kick out of what people post up there (within limits- I have no interest in knowing about your pet’s digestive problems, for example, or what you just scratched). The day after the final episode of LOST aired, I spent a almost embarrassingly significant chunk of my day discussing it with people. Maybe if I worked in an office, I wouldn’t need that. But having contact with the outside world, even if it’s only virtual, is a good thing for me.
I’ve always been terrible about staying in touch. But through these sites, I’ve been able to reconnect with friends from elementary school, high school, college, and my time in New York. (And one of those people volunteered to be a beta reader, providing some of the best insights into my latest manuscript).
My mother just set up a reunion with her college roommates, people she hadn’t seen in decades, via Facebook.
And of course, what would I do without my daily Kill Zone fix? I’ve made acquaintances across the world. Engaged in debate with people I probably would never have met otherwise. I’ve spent my entire adult life living in cities where chatting with strangers is a rare occurrence. But the online networking sites remove that wall, and suddenly I find myself discussing Nora Ephron’s send-up of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO with people in Tulsa, Akron, and Tokyo.
So…virtual water coolers: yea or nay?