Friday, October 14, 2011

Facebook's Influence

Everyone has an opinion about social media. There are some that don't know how they would make it through their day without Facebook, Twitter, or other sources of information. There are others who haven't even ventured into the land of social media. To them, it's a waste of time and they have far too much to do to spend their days on these consumers of time.

I was trying to remember exactly when I was introduced to Facebook. As I recounted the progression with my wife, we figured out that she had joined Facebook shortly after our first son was born. Those were the earlier days of Facebook when they had just changed requirements so that you no longer needed and *.edu email address to have an account. I heard her make mention of it a number of times in conversation, enough that it piqued my curiosity and I joined. I didn't fully understand the magnitude of it until much later.

As I began to enter the Facebook world, I realized the potential for connections. I was able to look up people I hadn't seen in a long time. When we moved to Virginia, I reconnected with a childhood friend who lives and works in the D.C. area. He actually gave us a personal tour of the Pentagon, which was awesome. I eventually reconnected with his whole family, people who I hadn't seen or talk to in nearly 20 years although they had lived just down the street from me and were counted among my closest friends in my early, formative years.

Living further away from family and friends, social media is a great way to update multiple people at the same time. While it may feel a little impersonal at times, it does help to give people the illusion of connections though miles may separate them. I saw social media as a tool. In many ways, social media is what you make it. Like with any other tool, it's only as powerful as the person using it and can also be as dangerous as the person using it. The power behind it become fairly evident to me in recent months.

I had been noticing some trends among friends and their status updates. My wife and I would converse about it to see whether the other one thought anything seemed unusual. After concluding that things were definitely seeming strange, we kept a closer eye on what was happening. Status update after status update, we would see that something was going on that didn't seem right. Mind you, this wasn't with only one person, we noticed it in a few different people.

Before too long, we heard sad news from regarding some couples that we knew. We heard of marriages breaking up and were seeing a pattern between developments and in their lives and what we were taking notice of through status updates. After seeing this happen more than once, I couldn't help but start thinking about it more and more.

In a casual conversation with a friend, while I lamented about Blackberries, my friend lamented about Facebook and what it had the potential to do to people. If I had heard a comment like this a year ago, I would probably not have given it much merit, but having seen some things that were a little bit disturbing, I decided it might be good to think this through.

Facebook has changed the way people live. That might seem like an extreme statement to some, especially those who are not connected through Facebook, but let me expound a little. I just celebrated 20 years from when I graduated high school. Due to my mom's health and subsequent death, I was not able to attend my reunion, but in many ways, anytime that I went on Facebook, I could almost feel reunited with these people. Once upon a time, there was anticipation before reunions, especially when you didn't really keep up with people from your class. You wondered what they would look like after 5, 10, or 20 years. Did they look the same? Were they married? What were they doing? Where were they living?

Now, all I need to do is send a friend request to someone, hope that they accept, and then check out their Facebook page to get all of the answers to these questions and many more. While it doesn't fill the personal connection that a reunion affords, it certainly takes a little bit of air out of the balloon of anticipation, the thing for which some people really waited for their reunions.

I've heard of people reconnecting with their high school "flames." In my age group, it has probably been used more to reconnect with people from 10 or 20 years ago than anything else. As I thought about this, I began to theorize what this might mean. Was Facebook making people feel younger? By reconnecting with people who they had been friends with during a different chapter of life, were people feeling as if they were that age again?

If I'm 45 and I reconnect with people I went to high school with, aren't there going to be times through our connections when I will feel like I'm back in high school again? If I'm in my late 30's and I reconnect with fraternity brothers from college, won't my mind be flooded with trips, parties, and other things that we were part of back in the day? It almost seemed like Facebook had the potential to allow some people to think that they were younger than they really were.

I took my theory and started applying it to some of the relational tragedies that I had observed from afar on Facebook. It all seemed to fit. I was seeing people act like they were 18 again, people who should have known better. People seemed to be shirking some of their adult responsibilities to act like they were carefree, young, and free of responsibility again.

Now, going back to my statement that social media is just a tool, I don't think that any of this is Facebook's fault. Unfortunately, there are probably people who do. To blame Facebook for this kind of thing seems to me to be the equivalent of blaming Stihl for building a chainsaw that someone misused which resulted in them cutting off their hand. Most tools have safety mechanisms to prevent people from being injured while using them. If those safeguards aren't in place, it becomes the responsibility of the user to familiarize themselves with the tool in order to prevent accident or injury.

I wouldn't pick up a power tool without having some working knowledge of how it works. How do I turn it on and off? What do I need to keep my hands away from? What are the potential injurious features? If I choose to use it without knowledge of these things, resulting in injury, can I really blame someone else? There may be times when a malfunction is not my fault, but I would expect that's the exception rather than the rule.

My kids are young. I don't expect that they will be on Facebook within the next few years. Who knows, by the time they get to be of age, Facebook may be a thing of the past, but I kind of doubt it. As a parent, I should feel responsible for educating my kids about these kinds of things. They are tools and tools have rules. If we fail to follow the rules, we will pay the price. The internet is a tool which makes it a lot easier to plagiarize information. In this digital age, I need to make sure that my kids understand the power of the internet as well as its potential dangers.

I will continue to use Facebook...for now. I'm aware of some of the potential dangers of it, but I also see it as an incredible tool. If I were to throw away or not use every tool that posed a potential danger to me, I would most likely be embracing an Amish lifestyle. Know your tools, know their rules, and make sure that you are doing everything you can to take precautions when using them.

1 comment:

  1. I know of at least 2 marriages in the past year that have broken up due to facebook. Both married 10+ years. Lots of resouces/stories out there.

    And even a book
    facebook and your marriage