I recently entered into a brief ‘conversation’ on Facebook with regard to this social phenomenon. (Normally, I would not have used semi-quotes above – a touch of irony.) The discussion started with a post from a friend that was prompted by a recent television commercial. In this ad, a young lady is at home texting on her cell. Her mom asks what she’s up to, and she says ‘hanging out with friends’. In the Facebook discussion, some folks found it sad, one person was on the fence, and I took it as a matter of course. So let’s try to look at this.
It seems to me that what likely many folks will respond to with dismay is the use of the expression “hanging out with friends”, when what we see is that the person is clearly by herself and at home. At the outset, this seems a contradiction. How can one be hanging out with friends when one is at home alone? I would think that in most of the world society, any expression that is typically understood to indicate that a person is socially engaged with friends or family means that they are in the physical presence of said friends and family. However, I think it is becoming clear, if it’s not already, that this paradigm is definitely shifting, and there is a variety of response to it. Now, at some point here, I think it can be kept in mind that such shifts have occurred in many different ways over the generations, and I’m betting in most world cultures. Here in this country, I can think of a few that occurred just before this lifetime of mine, and during. Time was that music was recognized as beautiful sounds emanating from stringed, winded, or struck instruments….not so much a loud, harsh sound from something plugged into electricity, or spoken words in a monotone voice. Chatting on the phone meant you were home seated by the phone, which was either on tabletop, or mounted to the wall (remember letting your finger ride back around after the dial stroke?). Going out with friends meant gathering at one’s home, or going to the park, or perhaps a local sporting event….not so much the mall. (I’m not sure if these are great examples, but I’m hoping the point is clear enough.)
And now, there is this one. How often do we see people together, but the conversation can be minimal because they are typing messages on their hand-held devices. Many people spend a lot of time either on those same devices – or at home on the laptop – engaged in social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and so on. There is still talking on the phone, as many of us who use public transportation can attest to – like it or not. What can be observed in instances like these is a sense of isolation, and not true social interaction. There are many people who perceive this situation as quite unfortunate. These folks ought to be out with their friends, and if they are, they ought to be doing something more enjoyable or rewarding. They ought to be actually interacting with people live instead of with the light of the computer screen and the clacking letter keys. And the really sad thing is when people actually consider time spent like this as ‘hanging out with friends’.
I can’t help but think that so much of that response is based on the background and the childhood of the person having it. Thoughts like ‘when I was that age’, followed by what we were doing then. We were outside playing, or at someone’s house listening to records, or at the movies, or…yes…at the mall. And I also remember hearing the generation before me saying “When we were your age, we were……”. I’m sure one instance of theirs might have been playing ball in the street, and not hanging out at closed construction sites. They may not have been at home talking to their friends on the phone, they were out with them. Every generation has their ‘norms’, based on the way they were raised, and also where they were raised. One of my own pet peeves is remembering when conversations out in public were private and quiet, and no one else had to know our business – as opposed to shared with much of the surrounding vicinity.
I am one of those folks who spend a lot of time in Facebook….whether at home or away. With my typical work schedule, which is rarely typical, it is a good way for me to remain in touch with folks throughout my day, and to share thoughts and events. Yes, some days, I ‘micro-share’. Other times, I’m hardly in there at all. I’ve been teased about it, and have accepted it. One of my favorite uses for it is for friends and family who either live in another state, or another country. I have family and friends in Ireland, England, Italy, Canada, and even an old school friend who currently resides in Thailand. I have been re-acquainted with friends from school, theatre, and previous employment. We get to share images and video with each other. And I have actually made friends in Facebook whom I have still not met in person, and yet feel really quite close to. And the biggest way that Facebook was really good for me in the last year was on my 50th birthday. For whatever the reasons, nothing was planned for that day – folks were busy and such. Much to my happy surprise, many of my Facebook friends were available and active in there. And in a very real – if not physical – sense, I was not alone on my 50th birthday. The party was online! It was a huge delight in what otherwise could have been a truly sad day for me. So for me, especially regarding times like that, I’ll take the virtual as opposed to the lonely any time. (I admit to some dismay that some folks seem to prefer to use Facebook often as a political platform….but that may well be a separate blog.)
So, back to the commercial. I understand that it is an advertisement, and that the promoters want to convince me of something or another. I understand advertising and editing for a purpose. And it is interesting that the first time I saw the ad, and she said “Hanging out with friends!”, I actually thought nothing of it. I responded as if it were normal. Apparently it was to me. And I guess in my mind she may well have been making plans for later or tomorrow. I didn’t take it as an indication of her lifestyle in the sense that virtual hanging out is how she rolls, as it were. I know that for myself, Facebook is never enough! And I do have plenty of in-person interactions with people, even aside from my job. I’ve just set up a few, in fact. And so I don’t assume that there are so many others that exist solely in virtual reality. If they did, I would wonder why, and be curious about whether it were in their best interest or not. But ultimately, it is not up to me. Other peoples’ journey is theirs, mine is mine. I can’t say what’s best for another. I can only focus on my road, and where and how it takes me.
So if spending that much time texting or Facebook-ing or MySpace-ing (my, how language has changed!) is not for you, then simply don’t do it – and of course, you don’t. If others get something out of it, it’s not hurting you at all. In fact, I do have a friend or two who spend very little time in either, and I don’t get to see them as often as I’d like. But even texter/Facebooker me can honor that in them, and send an occasional message and know that they got it, and will respond when it works for them. And all is well.
As always, I welcome response to this blog….as well as ‘discussion’ or ‘conversation’.