1. Providing a false sense of closeness
The whole concept behind "social networking" online is to be connected with everyone, everywhere, all the time. There is nothing wrong with this concept; it provides a cost-effective, easy way to stay in touch with distant relatives or friends who have moved away. I enjoy keeping tabs on what my military buddies are up to in Germany or Japan via status updates. But should social networks take precedence as the default method of staying in touch? Before MySpace, Facebook, and Google+, it meant more when people stayed in touch. Phone calls, personal letters, emails, announcements of special events like weddings or graduations.
All of these differ from the modern day status update by one simple factor: they were purposeful. If someone called you on the phone to ask how you were doing, it showed that they cared enough to think about you specifically, pick up the phone, and carry on a polite conversation.
2. Substituting for face-to-face communication
A status update is not directive. It is merely a thought, a jotted down tidbit of someone's day, cast off onto the Internet without direction or intent. And any responses to it are, well... just that. A meaningless comment on a meaningless piece of minutiae. In perhaps the most absurd possible example of this, my neighbor once complained of never being able to talk to me anymore by posting on a status. My neighbor... who could walk to my front door and talk to me in person anytime in less than thirty seconds. People simply don't make as much of an effort to maintain friendships when they can read about people's lives online.
But if you happen to read a status about an event going on in someone's life, does that make you informed on how his or her life has been progressing since you last talked? The overwhelmingly common mindset seems to suggest that it does. People take tweets, status updates, and blog posts as a satisfactory substitute for phone calls, personal letters, emails, and (heaven forbid) actual face-to-face communication because this phenomenon has so insidiously saturated our everyday lives. Perhaps it is the same concept as considering artificial sweeteners the same thing as cane sugar. My mother often tells me how different soda tastes now than it did when she was growing up in the 60's. Will we soon be watching the widening, disbelieving eyes of the next generation when we tell them about calling each other on the phone?
3. Permeating advertising... for everything imaginable
If you've watched TV or surfed the Web in the last five years, you have most likely noticed that the rampant, unstoppable force that is the advertising business has become more omnipresent than ever before. Advertising is a legitimate business and necessary sales strategy, as well as a great way to earn income if you have a way to generate content on which you can advertise. But, especially on the internet, advertisements have become maddeningly ubiquitous. I miss the days when you could access a Web page without things flying across your screen or hearing obnoxiously loud videos that put the late Billy Mays to shame.
I also miss being able to watch a commercial (now there's a group of words I never thought I would arrange together) that doesn't ask you to like a Facebook page. Businesses now offer discounts, rewards, coupons, special offers, and a host of other goodies in exchange for garnering attention on their social network pages. They do this because the number of Facebook users is staggering, and because drawing attention to something tends to bring more attention, and more attention, and so on. If you've yet to pick up on this, wait for the end of a commercial, when a major business shows its name or logo. Most of the time, somewhere on that image, is a Facebook URL. Why is this necessary when probably every corporation in the developed world has its own website? Because it's yet another way to exert their presence into the everyday lives of their consumers.
4. Breeding narcissism
A few days ago, I happened to chime in on an online discussion about the negative side of Facebook for many of its users. My exact description is not one I would normally use in more formal writing, but I would argue that "one big cesspool of [attention seeking], socially deficient under-aged narcissists who think that likes and comments are the holy grail of measuring self-worth" is a fairly accurate -- if exaggerated -- description. Someone else countered with the argument that the same assessment could be made of any public medium that facilitates self-expression.
He made a good point, but self-expression in the form of art, music, writing, and speaking is (or at least should be) intended mostly for the benefit of the audience, rather than the ego of the creator. And I would hardly call posting a scantily-clad picture of oneself with the caption "Ugh I'm so fat" expressive. This problem is more common among younger audiences, and can be easily circumvented by removing these offenders from viewing. But the trend is still telling of a latent psychological bias toward self-degrading behavior. And though Facebook may have become the poster child for the issue, it does exist online in many forms, even generating an opposing problem -- cyber bullying.
5. Spreading those baby pictures a bit too far
It has always been a custom for new parents to want to share everything their wrinkly little monstrosity does. They show off pictures of Junior feeding, bathing, going for a walk, playing with the dog. And in earlier years, they were mostly restricted to showing them to people who actually cared. Aside from the obvious concerns associated with sharing personal photos online, parents often take things too far when posting baby pictures.
Those are captured moments meant for family and close friends, not the girl who lived down the hall in college sophomore year or the friend's coworker from last summer's barbecue. I was even recently invited to a baby shower via Facebook, by an acquaintance from high school. And he is still in high school. Even among teenagers, who would have been scorned for their irresponsibility in decades past, it has become common practice to post ultrasounds, baby pictures, and related events to Facebook as a way of announcing the child's life to family and friends -- and the rest of the world in the case of people who don't spend enough time checking over their privacy settings. Some people just don't seem to know when they're sharing too much, or consider who they're sharing it with.
6. Making stalking socially acceptable
It's usually a good idea to get to know someone before getting involved in a relationship, but it can easily be taken too far. "Facebook stalking" has become such a common activity that it was featured as the main plot on an episode of the popular sitcom How I Met Your Mother. Much of the issue revolves around browsing a victim's photo albums for visual stimulation -- if you can call someone who willfully posts such things in full view of the world a victim. But beyond the obviously creepy aspects of admiring a bikini-clad girl's vacation pictures, there is something extremely disconcerting about gathering information on a person from the Internet, rather than through conversation.
What is there to talk about on a first date when the other person has already learned everything about you from your Facebook page? Or worse, how do you react when they address something they dislike that they only learned from the Internet? In the episode of How I Met Your Mother, the main character (and biggest romantic failure ever) Ted Mosby meets a woman and asks her out on a date, vowing to avoid learning anything about her from the Internet beforehand. He makes it halfway through the evening, doing surprisingly well on the date, before giving in to temptation. His entire demeanor completely changes after learning about her dramatically over-impressive life achievements through a simple Google search. Here's a piece of advice if you're trying to have a meaningful, long-term relationship: Don't do anything Ted does. Ever.
7. Devaluing the concept of friendship
What does it mean to be friends? In my book, it means having an open, trusting, platonic relationship with someone you would never hesitate to lend a hand to whenever needed. Just as an experiment, go through your Facebook friends list and see how many people on it are actually friends by that definition. I have had people add me on Facebook whom I have only met once... or even not at all. I have old classmates, people I knew before I moved, friends of friends that I've met at social events. And mixed into all of this are the few people I would consider real friends.
They don't deserve that. These are people I have grown up with, helped through difficult decisions, shared intimate secrets with. And they're just thrown onto a list with a hundred other random acquaintances as if they mean nothing more to me than some young high school student I helped with homework when I was a teacher's assistant. Sometimes friendships can be formed online, allowing you to meet and interact with people you otherwise wouldn't be able to. Some of my closest friends are people I met playing video games online. There are always different levels of friendship, but true friends should be respected more than to be reduced to another meaningless status update on a news feed.
Eileen S Murphy is a writer who believes in the social and personal benefits to be had from the exploration of intellectualism in media and popular culture. Read more articles on the intellectual value of TV, movies, video games, internet culture, and more at http://www.think-entertainment.net and http://www.essmurphy.com.© 2014 Eileen S. Murphy
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