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TU Global: Facebook deteriorates or enhances interaction

6 April 2014 By Jake Ulick, Columnist No Comments

I spent my afternoon this past Saturday asking about 50 random students around campus two questions: First, what would life be like without Facebook? And by asking that, I was simultaneously asking what life has become because of Facebook. So I phrased the second question as such: How, if at all, has Facebook (and any other social media platform) changed the way you view the world and our generation?

The responses I received were funny, predictable at times, repetitive and rather contradictory at points.

There seems to be a persistent thought among students of our sociability being diminished by so much detached online interaction. I can’t tell whether or not that has been overstated, and thus willingly assumed by all or if people have truly encountered this with others.

This worry has been around since the dawn of texting, but has been amplified with the evolution of social media. It explains why many students responded to my first question by saying life would be “better,” “less complicated,” full of more direct/physical contact with others and “deeper personal relationships” and that people would have “better interpersonal skills.”

Other students added that “we’d be more productive,” that life would be “simpler,” “more social and more private” and finally that people would be more spontaneous.

Some went as far as saying that Facebook has led to a “diminished attention span,” “more passive interactions” and people’s difficulty with “being face-to-face.” I find this ironic after speaking with so many students, most of who could have been the target of the last student’s comments on social deterioration, yet they were perfectly fine having a random conversation with a stranger (yours truly).

On the contrary, some students looked beyond the easy-to-make assumption of social deterioration and pointed to what enhanced capabilities we’d be losing: Easy multimedia communication with friends, family, and even soldiers abroad; losing the ability “to connect with others who aren’t a part of our everyday lives.” One student even lamented the difficulty that would arise in remembering the birthdays of friends and family.

Yet many, almost all, of these same students expressed a mixed view. The same aspects of Facebook (and other forums they mentioned like Twitter and Instagram) are the ones that make some self-conscious, get people into the habit of sizing themselves up against their peers, to feel the need to maintain a pristine online persona that doesn’t completely match who they really are.

Contradictions are inherent in these naturally mixed views on something that can truthfully be said to be both helpful and harmful. For example, as some students expressed, we may be more self-conscious but we are therefore more self-aware in a positive way, which translates (not always, unfortunately) into people thinking twice about what they say or reveal on such a public forum.

We have exponentially more interpersonal connections but very little depth among them. We have “reassured faith in humanity,” as one student said, via true, feel-good stories that go viral or stories of uprisings against oppressive regimes. Yet we are a more cynical and distrusting generation. Facebook “displays our technological development” but also our simplification of a world that is a lot more complex than we like to believe. We have a voice that others around the world our age couldn’t even begin to conceptualize yet we’ve become passive. We hate social media (and pompous online personalities) but we need it at the same time. “Our generation would be more stagnant (without it),” as one student phrased it.

What I find most interesting is that most students I surveyed couldn’t see past the current implications of Facebook on social life and think back to what it was like before in order to fully answer the question of life without it. It is this coupled with the fact that there are so many strange contradictions with a service that people use so unanimously that indicate our lack of self-inquiry and introspection. We openly criticize it, yet we submit to it. Everything has tradeoffs.

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