I worry that I sit and home and poke people instead of going to the pub. Is this normal?
I have an awkward relationship with social networks. A sense of diminishing privacy led me to leave Facebook last year. I convinced myself that I was free from passive aggressive status updates and albeit harmless but endless bickering. However, instead of relief, I began to feel out of touch, out of the loop. I started to use twitter, and then finally caved in and rejoined Facebook. I still had my reservations, it seemed to be a space to avoid people I already knew, whereas twitter appeared to be exciting, full of strangers I’d like to get to know better.
Ten years ago, I started to use forums to connect with people. At the time I was living in a small village, and felt rather isolated. I made some good friends, and when we finally met, I was armed with an extensive knowledge of their interests and their background. For better or worse, this is now the norm. I can look people up, see pictures of them drunk, find out if they like Come Dine with Me (most seem to).
It has been argued that Facebook promotes short attention spans. We are living in an action/reaction culture, and our brains are now accustomed to this rapid interchange. Behind the screens, we have the time to think up witty retorts, but nuance and subtlety can be lost. There are concerns that these networks are replacing face-to-face interaction, but my time online is not a substitute for anything. I view the internet as an aid to make new friends, and manage existing relationships. Sure, going to a friend’s party is better than posting birthday wishes on their Facebook wall, but it’s better than nothing.
Social networks provide people with a voice, reassurance that they are listened to, recognised, and important. Real time conversations can be stressful and perilous; people who are shy, or confined to their home are able to interact in a way previously unavailable to them. They may become less inhibited, less concerned about how they are evaluated. People have always formed groups for common interest, and now there is a universally accessible platform with which to share ideas and thoughts. This means that the most peculiar whim can be satiated, people can easily find others who share their outlook.
Man is a social being. Facebook satisfies the basic human need to communicate. But the freedom of expression that it provides opens people up to criticism. Others can assume ownership of your past, your present. Even your feelings are open for comment, your feelings are debatable. Your development is tracked and recorded, and this online history may not be a wholly accurate representation of your life.
Nowadays, people are less intimidated by authority; they can research claims, question legislation. They can share their doubts, offer theories and discuss ideas. However, for every useful piece of information, there lies a myriad of second hand scare stories, and ill informed judgements.
Cyber-bullying and suicide feature more in the press than any positive issues, and luminaries like the neurologist Baroness Susan Greenfield suggest that sites like Facebook are fundamentally bad for us. She argues that increased internet use is linked with a decline in communication between family members. She also states that excessive use leads to a shrinking of their social circle, and therefore they are more likely to suffer from depression and loneliness. But arguably, it’s lonely people who are attracted to the Internet, rather than the Internet being the cause of their loneliness. There are many pro-social and psychological benefits of Internet use, but the concentration is often focused on the negative side.
There is a correlation between dysfunctional Internet use and loneliness, but anything done to excess can be damaging. The internet is a tool, we are now able to research and find information about anything, in an instant. We have the knowledge of the world at our fingertips. Sure, we need to be responsible, the vulnerable do need protection, but we must achieve a balance, both when online, and when discussing ways to improve our lives.
I have experienced both the positive and negative sides of social networking. I became addicted, I became frustrated. At one point, I had my very own stalker. But I have problems outside of the internet as well, and I deal with these by weighing up my options and acting accordingly, sensibly. It’s very easy to point the finger. It’s human nature to want to blame something tangible when something goes wrong, but I don’t think we should blame Facebook.