By Jonathan Fox
A few weeks ago, while doing research for an article on local yoga classes in the Catskills, I decided to post an inquiry to my Facebook page, asking friends for their suggestions. Instantly, my account was flooded with responses, including information it might have taken me hours, if not days, to gather in more traditional ways. Although I had suspected that Facebook, along with other networking sites like Myspace and Twitter, were powerful networking tools, this experience made me even more keenly aware of the influence that these new media tools can wield.
Personally, I fought the idea of participating for quite a while, despite the hype and “friend requests” that began to accumulate in my email. Unsure of how it all worked, I gave in to the peer pressure and signed up. I’m a few years in now and find myself a devotee... with reservations. While the yoga information faded in my mind, I decided to address the issue of the power of the process itself and posted to my page, once again. This time, I asked my friends to tell me how they felt about Facebook, and social networking as a whole. The results were interesting and informative—and a few were alarming.
THE GOOD: Being able to immediately get information to hundreds (or thousands) of people is amazing. On a local level, I find that the isolation of living in the woods is vanishing. A lost dog, a nearby political rally or a party coming up in the next town over all can be announced and subsequently shared as the “information superhighway” hums along. When I post an upcoming event to my page, I’m sharing the information with my own community, and (as the old saying goes: they tell two friends and they tell two friends... ) On a larger scale, Facebook is a tool for putting us in touch with old pals from school, a place to play games with folks from all over the world, a forum to express our views, share photographs with loved ones and remind us of birthdays, giving users an opportunity to touch base quickly, in the fast-paced world we all inhabit.
Quote: L.F. from White Lake, NY writes that “It’s a great way to keep in touch with friends (from near and far) and can be a great tool for business networking.”
THE BAD: While perusing the scores of responses to my on-line poll, I wasn’t surprised to find some negatives. Buzzwords like procrastination, addiction, drama, objectionable, guilt, scary and evil all cropped up and the commentary stirred a lively “virtual” debate, as folks can not only respond to me, but to others who post their thoughts as well, continuing the swell that has far reaching effects.
Although this is an internet resource, feelings can still be hurt in the virtual world. A casual comment I made to a friend in New York City sparked a rather vehement response, not only from her, but her network as well, who weighed in without being asked. Facebook allows users to “unfriend” people on their networking lists and my pal did just that, cutting off all communication with me from that point on. I was mystified by her reaction (and since Facebook comments cannot convey inflection) felt that she had misunderstood my jovial sarcasm. But the damage had been done and we are no longer “friends” on Facebook. I was momentarily dismayed by this dramatic response, but chalked it up to a lesson learned.
Procrastination seems to be the number one complaint among users who are looking for an excuse to avoid getting work done, whether it’s doing the dishes, writing a term paper, or catching up on paying bills. The addictive nature of the social network also appears to be a real issue for those who succumb to the gaming and overload of entertaining links that can lead to hours of surfing the web.
Quote: C.M. from Hurleyville, NY writes that “It’s totally addictive and I’m starting to not like that.”
THE UGLY: You are not paranoid; Big Brother is watching you. Facebook (and others) employs hundreds of computer programmers whose sole job is to gather information. What we buy, where we go, how we spend our money and what we do for recreation are all valuable tips to pass on to the advertisers lining up for our business. Intuitive to a fault, this on-line invasion is not going away.
It took me a while to grasp the concept that individual marketing was in operation. I wondered why I was seeing ads for writing seminars, flying lessons and UFO conferences until I compared with my friends and discovered that their display ads were specifically targeted to their tastes.
On one hand, I appreciate this strategy, since my page often informs me of a great getaway bargain, a hitherto unknown resource for recreation, or a new novel that appeals to my sensibilities. On the other hand, my personal information is being shared on a constant basis with companies that I’m not keen on having access to my privacy. Even in the internet world, there are two sides to every computer-generated coin.
Quote: C.B. from Smallwood, NY writes that “I am getting annoyed with all of the ‘hacking.’ My Facebook account has received bogus posts about a free computer—and just yesterday I was approached about purchasing internet porn. I don’t like that at all.”
Whether we choose to participate or not, the world of social networking is growing in leaps and bounds. Of course we have the choice to not engage, but there are aspects beyond our control. If we use the internet for any purpose: to research a good hotel, buy a lipstick, or just look at videos on YouTube, that information is being archived somewhere and sometimes, bought and sold. Using caution seems prudent, but I, for one, will continue to enjoy my own brand of on-line networking (good, bad and ugly), being the social butterfly that I am.
Quote: K.L. from Wurtsboro, NY sums it up by writing that “I love being able to reconnect with old friends (in one place) and seeing the pictures that friends share—but I think that some people share way too much information that can be potentially harmful in a variety of ways.”