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Sunday, November 08, 2009

Questions Regarding Social Networking Websites

What am I missing?

I hear colleagues at work talking about their Facebook pages (no one "Tweets" yet), and my wife has mentioned that friends in our community are on Facebook. Last night I was at a function and ran into a friend from high school who told me that there are facebook groups both for my high school and my junior high school.

"Really?" was all I could muster in response. "Why?"

He responded with the typical, "well, it's always good to see how people are doing." I thought at the moment that too many people use the words "always" and "never" too frequently. He saw that I looked skeptical.

"Look," I said, "I lived with those people for years in school. I keep up with a few. I figure that if anyone really wanted to find me, they could Google me and figure out where I am." (I also figure that having gone to school 12 years straight with some of those people, I had plenty of time way back when to determine for how long I'd stay in touch). Besides, I wanted to add, I like living in the present, interacting with colleagues, friends and neighbors. I try not to look back too much except to draw fondly on positive experiences and recall not-so-positive ones so as not to repeat them. Spencer Johnson would be proud of me.

He shrugged. "It's fun," was all he could muster.

I'll allow for that. Perhaps his high school and junior high school days were the best times of his life. I doubt that; he has a lovely wife and two nice sons and a nice life.

"Okay," I responded.

"Besides," he offered, "you can check out your old girlfriends."

The conversation left me curious -- what compels people to spend a lot of time on these sites?

I don't need to know with whom Joe had dinner, with whom Morris went to the Eagles' game and where Jamie had her mani/pedi and with whom. I don't necessarily want to hear one-dimensional opinions on sensitive subjects in my community; somehow, discussions are the best way to vette problems. At least that's what I've learned.

Please advise me what I'm missing. Does online social networking fill a meaningful void in people's lives, or is it another form of distraction (okay, like blogging) that keeps people away from reading a good book, exercising, planning for retirement, planning a party or great meal, visiting with a friend, etc.?

The friend I saw last night seemed to appreciate Facebook for its ability to enable him to connect with people he hasn't seen for decades. Other friends seem to appreciate Facebook for their ability to keep up with friends in real time. As for the former, we call can differ on how necessary, desirable or interesting that activity is. As for the latter, how meaningful are the interactions? Or, do they have to be?

At any rate, call me a Luddite (or worse) for challenging the utility and desirability of social networking. Let my friends think I'm boring (which they might already) because I refuse to engage in one of the newest trends (then again, has social networking been around for long enough that it's no longer a trend?). But register your opinions and convince me that social networking websites are not a waste of time.

Thank you.


Anonymous Patrick said...

Long time listener, first time caller. I would offer two points.

1. My wife and I know three couples where Facebook has caused marital strife due to one spouse finding and carrying on conversations with an old flame. Seems like a bad idea.

2. We do have a Twitter account, but we basically use that as a microblog that posts in a sidebar on our family blog. We don't have any family that lives nearby, so it's a way that we broadcast little things that happen to our lives to those people who care to tune in.

Well, one more thing, I guess: Organizations that we like to pay attention to are starting to use Twitter. I can get information from the local art museum, science museum, college sports teams, etc. via Twitter. It provides a good heads-up for things that I may want to do with my family.

So, not quite a glowing endorsement of social networking, but I have found some benefit.

5:20 PM  

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