Archive for the ‘Technology’ category

Facebook v. Face-to-Face

January 13, 2009

I like Facebook. Let me say that up front.

For those of you not familiar with Facebook, it is an on-line social networking phenomenon that allows individuals to connect with other people around the world. It’s easy, fun (and potentially addictive.)

Through Facebook, I’ve been able to connect with friends I’ve not seen in many years. It also provides a way to keep up with family members and local friends, particularly within my church. It allows me a place to post comments, share photos, pass along prayer requests, send virtual gifts such as bumper stickers and “flair” (virtual buttons), link to my blog, join groups and carry on conversations.

Well . . . sort of.

Though I am a fan of Facebook as a networking tool, I’ve come to realize its limitations. For starters, you aren’t looking at your friends face-to-face. You can’t pick up on facial expressions or changes in voice tone. You miss out on body language with its subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) gestures. Oh yeah, we can add smilies (or type in all-caps when we want to shout) but even then our messages might be misconstrued.

In other words, the Facebook experience is insulated and isolated from the real, sometimes messy and awkward, face-to-face interaction. We call that a “degree of separation.” Sometimes that’s good a good thing (the reason that bloggers are often referred to as the “pajamas media”) whereby we can interact with people from the comfort of our homes without worrying about how we’re dressed. That isolation has a down-side however, if our ONLY contact with other people is through an on-line social network. All of us need real face-time with other people. There are times we need a literal shoulder to cry on, a literal pat on the back for encouragement, a literal hug of affection, or a literal fist-bump of camaraderie. Not only do we need to receive these physical touches, we need to spread them – even if it’s just a smile. There are times when bytes of data streaming across a wireless connection are a poor substitute for real flesh and blood contact, non-Photoshopped warts and all.

I’m not advocating closing your Facebook accounts, far from it. I am advocating a healthy balance between virtual connections and the kind that only happens in person.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, someone just sent me a tweet on Twitter.