No form of online experience more quickly insinuated itself into my life than Facebook, which I joined at the insistence of a rambunctious, third-year technical writing class back in the summer of 2007. I loved how Facebook “extended” me not just across geographical space but back into time, allowing me to fully animate relationships that had until then existed only as potential, or that had lapsed into silent curiosities.
I’ve been to a wedding and reception, completely organized via Facebook, of a former student and saw photographs of her children, soon after their birth, appear so beautifully on my time-line. And I received eighty responses to this plea posted on my wall: “Help me find a good migraine remedy!”
Although I no longer update my status as prolifically as I used to, I loyally inspect my time-line several times a day still. If Facebook disappeared, the yearning for what I would lose – in terms of what I could witness and, in that way, somehow, share – would be unquenchable.
Last week I asked my Facebook friends how much would their range of friendship and/or acquaintanceship shrink should they no longer have access to Facebook or other forms of social media like Twitter. Everybody who responded was about my age – in their fifties somewhere. Most had already seemed to have considered the possibility of going back, willingly or otherwise, to old-fashioned forms of communication. Here’s what four professional communicators wrote:
Grad-school friend Akiko: I don’t think friendship is dependent on FB, but FB does allow you to keep in touch with acquaintances and, more importantly for me, to renew friendships with old friends with whom I’d lost touch (this has happened to me, with many high school and college friends). This being said, I don’t think the quality of ‘real’ friendship is either increased or diminished because of FB. I couldn’t feel that I’m maintaining a meaningful friendship with anyone strictly through FB communication, because I need more direct contact and personal connection (face-to-face, phone conversation, or even personal email) to do so. So w/o FB I would still be in touch with friends through other means, but acquaintances would be lost. The question is whether that would matter.
My Buffalo buddy Reg: I would say it is fair to say that friendship is defined by non-virtual contact. Thus acquaintanceship would shrink a great deal but be no great loss, while friendship would shrink a bit, due to a reduction on one of its many means of intercourse, especially in periods when one’s willingness to maintain contact is reduced due to depression or great time pressures, but otherwise not suffer, because by definition it is not social-media-based or even significantly social-media-maintained. He added: A (somewhat but not entirely illusory) sense of connection would be diminished, which could have significant emotional effects, or might not. Also reduced access to new music, art, writing, and news. also reduced waste of time investigating unworthy music, art, writing, and news.
Mike (a friendly adversary from university): Fewer friends. Better stronger connections with the remaining friends. More blue sky. Smells. Sounds. Better tactile connection to the world.
And Kat (writing from Thailand): I would write more emails to my close friends yet would not bother with keeping in contact with the acquaintances and others who I am not so close with. I still write postcards to good friends and letters to my father. I think I would appreciate the time I would save being off of FB actually. Currently I rarely use Twitter, so it would not be missed for me. I still like the old fashioned get together for mock coffee along with a physical hug (rather than a cyber facsimile) to catchup with good friends. In fact that is my favourite way of communicating. You will get different answers depending on age groups. Computer was not a part of my formal education. Often I wish it didn’t exist. I think people would be more friendly and communicative without it. Rather than sitting in coffee shops on their laptops, perhaps they would observe the people around them and maybe even chat with them – like the good ole days or what you do in small towns still.
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(photo by Bob Basil)