As we’ve talked with our kids about the dangers of posting of pictures to Facebook (as evidenced here), I’ve been thinking about how kids experience the intimacy of friendship in the web-based world. My preliminary conclusion is that while they think they’re more connected to people, what they really have is the illusion of closeness rather than the real thing.
Six years ago or so (pre-Facebook–which feels like saying “pre-historic”), I went back to my basketball crazy college with a client to watch a game with a big rival. It was a Tuesday night early in the season. The home team won, an outcome was then a foregone conclusion, but not any longer. It was an exciting game, with a capacity crowd roaring at fighter jet-decibel levels. We left the arena and headed straight for the prime watering hole, expecting a similarly raucous crowd. And…crickets. “Where is everybody?” I finally asked the waitress.
“In their rooms chatting with each other on the computer,” she responded.
Fast forward to today’s Facebook, Twitter, text, web camera-enabled world. My high school-aged daughter was studying for finals and told us that she was meeting with a friend to work on French. I never heard anyone come in, and was sure she hadn’t left, so I walked in her room to see that she was video chatting with her French classmate. The quality of the video was decent, but ultimately it was like a bad conference call with each of them talking over each other and having to repeat themselves and talk loudly–things that would never have happened had they been in the same room. It looked like more trouble than it was worth and definitely wasn’t adding to the academic environment. “Why couldn’t you two get together to study?” I asked.
“Because we have the video chat, Dad (read: ‘you moron’)”, my daughter replied.
Facebook has rendered the word “friend” meaningless in the same way certain other words have been neutered. A friend of mine told me of a conversation with his high-schooler in which the kid said, “We’re ‘friends’, but we’re not friends.”
This technological interaction problem (hereafter referred to as “TIP”; I expect all royalties and credit for having coined same) isn’t limited to kids, of course. Ever been behind someone in the line at the grocery store who treats real people with the same snarky sarcasm normally found in the comment sections of websites and blogs? It’s almost like being in a foreign country and witnessing someone providing a living example of the phrase “Ugly American”. These folks seem to either have forgotten or never learned society’s rules for interacting with others. Yes, I know being rude is not limited to those raised in the digital age (those intent on making that point should get their own blogs) but doesn’t it seem like these non-social or anti-social creatures are more prevelant than they’ve ever been?
So we now live in a world in which every random thought is broadcast to the world, every picture available for everyone to see, everyone is linked together, but no one knows anyone all that well. I get the sense that we may be advancing technologically, but we’re moving backwards socially. Turn it off. Unplug. Get outside. Meet people face-to-face. Use your vocal chords and not your fingertips. Become friends.