social media again; a confirmation

I write a lot about social media, particularly facebook (see this post for a good summary of my writing on this), and my general view of it is pretty dim. On the one hand, the utilitarian benefits of social media are pretty enormous. Time is saved doing all sorts of small social maneuvers, but of course I’m concerned about how these technologies are slowly distorting the frame of social interactions.

I found this post today, and it provides further reinforcement of some points I’ve made before. In the above post, a person changed their birthday date to see who would wish him a happy birthday. A ton of people, even close friends, wished him a happy birthday, even though his real birthday was in April sometime, so not even a half-year before. His point was that people just instinctively sent him a happy birthday message without stopping to think when his birthday actually is.

Ok, so point made. Facebook encourages a kind of fakery and creates social bonds that are very shallow and tenuous. I don’t want to exaggerate the significance of this though. I mean, I don’t keep track of people’s birthdays, either with facebook or without. I just have no clue when my best friends’ birthdays are. This is one of my most obviously misanthropic and anti-social traits, but I just can’t get into it. I really can’t.

So people are a little superficial on facebook. Big deal. People were being superficial with one another well before they could have an electronic trophy next to their profile commemorating their faux-interactions. If the inventor of facebook had called our linked-to profiles “acquaintances” rather than friends, maybe all this finger pointing could have been prevented. Maybe as long as people don’t think they are dealing in friendship when they traffic in “friends” on FB, then there’s no harm done.

I think it’s also becoming a little self-defeating to so righteously and continuously poke fun at facebook. It’s like someone criticizing the state of our media culture by mocking tabloids. Duh facebook is silly; millions of people use it for all their most fleeting urges. The question is, and the question I wanted to shed some light on is: can we deepen our understanding of sociality, and through that, deepen our criticism of the new media culture?

This is a meta-point about philosophy and thinking, which is that examples are crucial. A good theory takes on an enormous number of examples that bizarre or challenging and puts them together in a coherent manner. Many theories can accommodate simple examples, but the good theories deal with the hardest stuff, and that’s why I’m also searching for examples, both banal and freaky. Take a theory of language, in which we express thoughts with words. Every unique string of words expresses a thought. Ok fine, but this won’t work because what about the sentence “Jim is here.” This set of words expresses a different thought depending on the circumstances. If I’m in Dallas when I say this, the thought is “Jim is in Dallas,” but not when I say this is in Boston. The WORLD itself becomes part of our language and we express ourself by involving not just symbols and sounds but the external world we inhabit. This is revolutionary, and it all comes about by a simple example. Take demonstratives. When I point and say “that is a plant,” I have not fully expressed a thought. Just hearing this sentence doesn’t tell you what I’m saying and you cannot evaluate my sentence for truth and falsity. But come to my situation, see what I’m pointing out, experience the world, and my utterance makes sense (and if I’m pointing at a chair, then my utterance is false).

So we need examples, and facebook provides some good ones that spur the mind to reflect, even if birthdays are not that important in themselves. And so I collect these examples to spur my own thinking. Here, the lesson, both from the woman who could no longer demonstrate care by calling on people’s birthdays when there was no facebook (the first post I referenced) and the man who fooled even close friends into mechanistically wishing him a happy birthday (the second post I linked to) is that the social world is potentially fragile and that technology can invade it in all sorts of subtle ways. The point is not to abandon technology, but to not be so uncritical in how it impacts us.


2 Responses to “social media again; a confirmation”

  1. 1 Noi Damhaila
    September 15, 2010 at 11:22 pm

    “The point is not to abandon technology, but to not be so uncritical in how it impacts us”.
    i agree with this point..

  2. September 16, 2010 at 8:38 am

    I like leaving comments on people’s blogs. I was amazed when I started commenting that it really did start to drive traffic back to my site and, more importantly, started to establish relationships with people. It’s a lot of fun and there are amazing people out there to meet.

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