Facebook facilitates friendships
What if we didn't have Facebook? What if the human race was somehow deprived of the few social media websites that keep us talking to each other everyday? No more picture tagging or friend requests. Kiss status updates goodbye. What if — you might want to sit down for this one — we had to do all our socializing in person or over the phone? The popular opinion that we're addicted to Facebook is probably true in a lot of cases. According to NPR, Internet users spend more time on Facebook than any other site. But the other popular opinion that Facebook is bad for society is debatable at best. I'm all about the unpopular opinion; I think Facebook has been good to us. But a group of people — users even — still give it a bad rap.
The smear campaign is an inside job. Obviously self-defeating Facebook groups like "I Hate Facebook" show the kind of paradoxical self-loathing that is expected of some users. An embarrassed faction of Facebookers will update their statuses in one breath and badmouth society's dependence on technology in the next, quietly leaving themselves out of the equation. The "necessary evil" defense invariably follows. I am sure most of us have been guilty of this one time or another, but it's really annoying. A guilty pleasure is something you don't publicly profess to love because you are afraid of what other people who don't necessarily love it will think of you. This is another reason why Facebook is poorly viewed. Users project an image of themselves on their profiles that reflects the way they want to be seen rather than how they really are. It is a kind of selective autobiography. Considering the limits and purpose of Facebook, this is almost unavoidable. But being ashamed of enjoying and using the website is shameful. The first step is acceptance. We proud Facebookers are here for you.
I like to think of a Facebook message like a letter but faster. It accomplishes the same end, yet opponents question its usefulness, as well as its coolness. We don't insist on using the Pony Express to send packages, so why do people insist on mailing letters in place of sending e-mails? You can say in a Facebook message what you would write in a letter and it reaches your audience faster. If your message happens to be something like, "Don't eat that spoiled meat in the freezer," then — poof — technology might have even saved a life. I write letters; I'm certainly not opposed to it. But proponents of the letter who look back on a past of letter-sending they never lived, inventing nostalgia to defend a modern novelty, have no good reason to put down the utility of Facebook. If there's a thing, and people like that thing, you'll be associated with the people who like that thing if you like that thing, so it's cool to deny liking that thing. When Facebookers tell you they don't like Facebook, don't buy a word of it.
The notion that the website changed social interaction also contributed to the Facebook's ill repute. But socializing on the Internet has not replaced socializing in person. This is a weird and common complaint. Users don't get together on a Friday to see a movie on Facebook, or throw a toga party through Facebook or have a board meeting via the company's Facebook. Instead, the website often facilitates real-time social activity. You're throwing a kegger this weekend and asking 50 friends to come at 10 p.m. and bring $2 each. It's easier to make 50 mouse clicks than 50 phone calls. In this sense, social interaction on Facebook is also generally brief: A wall comment here, an invitation there, the "liking" of a status. From my experience, the marginal socializing on Facebook leads up or adds to real interpersonal contact — it doesn't replace it.
If we didn't have Facebook, social interaction might have a different face but not necessarily a better one. Online socializing makes interpersonal contact easier. It also makes users more conscious of their social life, recognizing parallels between the virtual side and the real one. Talking on Facebook doesn't mean you don't have to talk in person, but rather calls your attention to the gravity and realness of saying what you said to your friend's face. It's a buffer. And I'm convinced that, for most people, the relatively new website hasn't greatly affected, negatively or positively, how they act among friends. It has put us more in tune with our web of contacts and made talking with them easier and more efficient — maybe even fun. Unless you're a misanthrope, I think it's a pretty good idea.
Joe Hernandez is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in English and Spanish. His column, "The Soapbox," runs on alternate Thursdays.