I’ve listened on and off to Dr. Laura since 1992 or thereabouts. I’ve always enjoyed her frank, no-holds-barred, common sense approach to solving life’s problems, even if I didn’t always agree with her. Recently, she posted on her blog a letter written by a young man who “broke up” with Facebook. The theme seems to be that Facebook became too addictive and his “Facebook friends” became replacements for his real friends. Ironically, social media made this young man less social. The young man logged off of Facebook for good, vowing never to return, and Dr. Laura applauds his choice, saying that “…the more time we spend online, the less time we spend having true relationships complete with challenges, vulnerability, risks and profundity. These are not real-world relationships with depth. These on-line relationships are shadows and facsimiles which ultimately amount to little more than casual, superficial experiences.”
But this doesn’t jive with me, perhaps because I can’t relate to the problems this young man experienced with Facebook, but I also don’t agree with Dr. Laura’s observations. Not that I would throw them out completely, but her attitude reminds me people who eat too much, and in an attempt to get their eating under control end up eating nothing at all. Not to say you can’t live without Facebook, but I believe there is a healthy medium, and while those who can’t control themselves may need to abandon Facebook temporarily or permanently, that doesn’t necessarily mean everybody else should.
Let’s take Dr. Laura’s points one by one:
1. You barely know the people you communicate with on Facebook. “A recent essay in the New York Times (December 2, 2007) talked about the growing popularity of social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace, and others where the word “friends” is used to describe email relationships with folks we barely know.” (italics added)
Some people on Facebook may not really know any of their Facebook friends. Some people, like me, have relationships outside of Facebook with the majority of their Facebook friends and not with others. And other people never become Facebook friends with people they don’t already have strong relationships with outside of Facebook. But to say that all Facebook friends are friends only on Facebook and not outside of Facebook is to make an assumption that may or may not be based on fact, depending on the specific person involved.
2. Facebook time takes away from real relationship time. “The bottom line is that the more time we spend online, the less time we spend having true relationships complete with challenges, vulnerability, risks and profundity.”
This would be a true statement if the word “may” were inserted, as in “the less time we may spend having true relationships”, but spending time on Facebook doesn’t necessarily take away from real relationships any more than fly fishing, reading a book, working at your computer, sitting and thinking, or going jogging by yourself. It is only if Facebook becomes a substitute for real relationships that one can make the claim that Facebook is replacing real world relationship time.
3. Facebook relationships are not real relationships. “These are not real-world relationships with depth.”
Again, they may or may not be. That’s up to the user.
To her credit, Dr. Laura says to “show this to all your children and read it twice yourself if you are hooked to on-line pseudo-friendships.” The key word in that line is “if” and I actually missed it the first time I read this post. But even with that conditional statement, I still feel the post overwhelmingly communicates the idea that Facebook is non-productive and a time-waster. I agree it can be, but it can also be a useful tool. Here are some of the ways it’s benefited my life:
1. Making fake friends real. There are a lot of people I associate with on a regular basis, but only superficially. I see them at church, work, or other places, and I might wave to them and say “hi” but I barely known their names and I’ve never actually talked to them. But I see them on Facebook and figure “Hey, why not add them as a friend?” I add them as a friend, take a look at their profile, and what do you know, they share a common interest with me. Now, the next time I see them face to face, I’ve got a conversation starter. Sometimes it’s not even that complex, but merely by virtue of being Facebook friends we now feel more comfortable chatting with each other, even if we’re not aware of any comment interest.
2. Reconnecting with old friends. There are people I once had dear and close relationships with whom I haven’t talked to in over a decade, and perhaps I wouldn’t have talked with them for another decade if it weren’t for Facebook. A few months ago I created a group on Facebook for people who had served LDS missions in Manaus, Brazil when I was also a missionary there. More than 70 return-missionaries have joined the group I created and through Facebook (as well as offline methods) we are coordinating plans for a reunion in Brazil in a few years.
3. Staying close to family. My family is spread out across the country. While my siblings haven’t become as active on Facebook as I, and so I can’t point to any increased connectiveness as a result of Facebook, I have definitely become more connected to my nieces and nephews as I read the updates on their profiles and they read mine.
4. Meeting family you don’t know. I have a lot of second cousins and other relatives I’ve never met, or have perhaps met once or twice. But a few months ago I created a “Descendants of Nathaniel and Martha Steimle” group on Facebook which now has 36 members and counting. Facebook has enabled me to connect with these relatives and I feel as though our extended family, which was scattered and didn’t know each other at all, is starting to come together in a way that wouldn’t have been possible before. Who knows, we may have an extended family reunion in a few years with over 100 people in attendance that is a direct result of Facebook.
These are some of the personal ways in which I benefit from Facebook. Could it be detrimental to me? Of course it could, if I spent too much time on it to the detriment of other aspects of my life. I can easily see why some people become addicted to it. But Facebook can also create and enhance real relationships, and the potential for great good shouldn’t be overshadowed by manageable risk any more than we should stop eating because we eat too much.