Monday, July 23, 2007
Social Networking, Web 2.0 - and the point is...?
I've recently been sent a couple of invitations to join Facebook, and given that Facebook seems to be coming up an awful lot in conversation recently, I figured I'd join, have a mooch around, see what was going on. So I have. (Of course this was before I discovered I could never delete my Facebook entry... I can stop using it but not delete it - they say, just in case I want to start using it again...and they get to hold whatever data I've put on their servers...) That aside, I have a fundamental problem with Facebook and similar platforms: I don't get it. Honestly, can someone tell me; what's the point? I'm clearly missing it and seem unable to find it.
I suppose it's a bit like the thing about blogging that I raised a little while ago - about why we blog. Well, okay, I can see the point of blogging and I enjoy it. In my case it's an exercise in writing, sharing ideas and networking - and I suppose many would argue that Facebook offers something similar - especially if you connect your blog to it.
But all this raises a few other things and they're about the very nature of Web 2.0. And, while on one hand I find it really exciting, I'm also left deeply concerned.
In the old days, for those of you old enough to remember pre email... (yes, yes, do pass the zimmerframe, dear), we communicated with each other by letter or by phone - or... in person. Each form of communication, especially the in-person variety was rich in semantics. Now, however, we increasingly communicate via email, messaging, blogging or Facebook/MySpace/Bebo etc - and the richness of semantics is almost entirely, if not entirely, lost. We don't see one another, we don't hear inflections of tone, we miss the wink and yes, thank god, are spared any unfortunate body odour. In other words we miss real human contact. It also means that because the semantic content is lost, we end up having to spend more and more time explaining ourselves. And let's not even talk about the amount of miscommunication or misinterpretation that can and does happen. In the process what opportunity do we have to really get to know one another? Only that which each of us chooses to reveal - and even that may not be real... You only "know" who I am because I say this is who I am. I might indeed, for all you know, be a five foot four alien chicken with a damnable attitude. Or I might be psychopath... You don't really know, do you?
Of course, it's cool to make new connections, as so many of us have done through our blogging - but let's also face it, those connections are generally not particularly deep - we can walk away from one another at any time. There may be a sense of camaraderie, but real, meaningful, honest to god friendship...? Fair enough, some may grow from the beginnings of blog or Facebook connections - but then again, how many friends can any one person actually have?
And here's the other thing I don't get. Kids on campus or in school, spend oodles of time messaging one another via the various platforms. Lecturers and tutors are getting to the point where they're banning laptops in classrooms. What I don't get is the need for this constant connection. They're going to see each other in half an hour in the cafeteria or the next class... - in fact, they may even be sitting right next to one another - and let's face it, just how many notes can you pass during class? So, okay, I'm obviously also missing this point entirely, but perhaps someone can explain it to me.
Then there's this aspect of it all: A friend, travelling on business in a far flung land put away his laptop and went dow to the hotel poolbar for a drink and to find someone with whom he could strike up a conversation - you know, a bit of one on one chat, how's yer father and all that - a bit of real human interaction. He arrived at the poolbar and yes, there were lots of people about - but every one of them had their laptops or handhelds out and they were all tapping away furiously doing their communication with whoever via the ether.
Significant Other had a similar experience: travelling with four colleagues, they decided to go for a coffee whilst waiting for their connecting flight. They sat down and no, didn't start a conversation as one might expect. Instead out came the laptops and handhelds... and tap-tap-tap. Just how sociable is that? Is our social networking going to become more and more bound to a machine? Are we going to have less and less real one on one contact with one another? Let's face it, all this online networking takes time - and that's besides wading through daily mail and other administrative stuff - never mind doing the dishes and making the beds. Here's a question - how much time do you spend with your real "live" friends and how much time do you spend online, chatting, messaging, blogging or whatever it is one does? And how healthy is that?
A psychologist friend told me recently how alarmed she felt when one of her patients told her that he as really proud of how he'd been able to work out a problem with friend. They had, he said, a really deep and meaningful conversation - in a chatroom... My pal said she had to wonder how really meaningful said conversation could have been when neither of the participants could hear, smell, feel or see one another... and the opportunity for misinterpretation was so huge.
Of course, I suppose if you want or have to be housebound, if you're a recluse and hate getting out, then online social networking must be a godsend - but I get the distinct impression that most people networking out in the ether are neither housebound nor reclusive and I have to wonder why we do it... and, in some instances leave ourselves open to being data-mined - or - god forbid, cyberstalked.
As alien chicken of my acquaintance said to me, don't be afraid of it, just be very aware, the internet is not a safe place - there are Draconians, in all shapes and sizes, all over the place...
Maybe it's with good reason that I dont' "get" Facebook or MyFace as I indvertantly keep calling it.