Thursday, February 24, 2011

#93 - The Facebook Effect

Today, I took what was for me the unpleasant and somewhat painful task of removing one of my Facebook friends, someone I had worked with for several years during my past life as a television news producer.

A recent political discussion begun by said former friend on Facebook had turned a little too ugly for my tastes, ugly to the point where it was suggested I hate America and told I should leave. So I did leave - the friendship, that is. Not the country.

The exchange is, I think, indicative of something I'll call the Facebook Effect. While we become what Facebook calls friends, we are often nothing more than connections.

There is little true intimacy and often little in the way of civility. The way many of us were taught to talk to and to treat others goes out the window on Facebook. We each sit behind our computer keyboards and talk at each other rather to each other, assuming from a few words written here or there that we know all there is to know about the other person. That false familiarity and the safety of hiding behind our keyboards gives us the license we seek to speak to one another in ways we likely would not if face to face.

Of course, not all interactions on Facebook are as I describe here. But there are enough such interactions to make me wonder sometimes whether I am really cut out for "social networking."

The aforementioned exchange left me with a sour taste and a feeling similar to the one which led me to get out of television news. I could feel myself beginning to sink to the level of those who were spewing their hatred at me. So I got out.

Since he has 4,800-plus other friends, I doubt I'll be missed by my former Facebook friend. It's sad in a way, though. Facebook has the potential to bring people from various places and various viewpoints together for meaningful discussion. I've seen it happen.

However, that potential is a double-edged sword as it also allows people of similar views to insulate themselves from different people or different views. In such an insular environment, progress can never occur, understanding is doomed, and cooperation is prevented.

I've experienced too much of that side of the Facebook effect lately. Now I'm ready to rediscover some of the best of what the Facebook effect has to offer.

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