Friday, May 16, 2014

OMG: Social Media Sites are Places to Be Social!

Recently, a Facebook friend commented “OMG” on my Facebook status.  This friend is a person I know in “real life,” so I can say that he is an intellectual; a well traveled college professor and one of the authors of “The Brothers Keepers.”   He doesn’t comment often, nor does he post often.  In fact, his last actual post was a full month before he posted an uncharacteristic “OMG” on my status.  The status I wrote was this:  “Sweeping and straightening out this office in between playing on the computer. I've got a blog bubbling in my head. Dinner will be easy tonight - nuthin' but chili mac. Tomorrow, I get to have lunch with my friend. I'm looking forward to it.”  His “OMG” was unlike anything I would expect from him, so I was compelled to go to his page to see if there was a clue to why he would respond like that.  Following the link to his page, I came across a discussion on about the purpose of social networks.  His last post was simple:  “Ross article entitled "Social Media: Narcissistic Meaning Construction" . . . Postito ergo sum.”  (I believe the intent of the Latin phrase was “I post, therefore I am,” although I believe it actually translates to something like, “I change, therefore I am.”  Both are true, methinks).  Someone else posted a link to a psychological study called “A two-process view of Facebook use and relatedness need-satisfaction: disconnection drives use, and connection rewards it.”

I went to Google to look up these articles.  I found the abstracts to both easily, and have linked to them here.  Just click on the titles to read them.  The abstract for the Ross article wraps up by stating that “According to the author though the social networking website Facebook provides learning experiences, it is more of a personal scrapbook as people keep posting their photographs and the final outcome of using Facebook is sensory pleasure due to gossip, which doesn't improve one's quality of life.”  (Italics mine).  My post above falls right into this particular theory, I suppose.  Who really cares what I’m doing in a particular moment?  Does anyone else really want to see photos of my family at various times of our lives?  Yet, who is to say that “sensory pleasure due to gossip” doesn’t improve someone’s quality of life?

The second abstract asks the question, “Does using Facebook help people to meet their relatedness needs?”  Somehow, I don’t think they needed a study to answer it.  Of course it does.  That is the whole point of SOCIAL networking, isn’t it?  Of course, I’m not an expert.  I do, however, have my own ideas about this.

Sure, there is a sensory pleasure inherent in sharing our lives with others and having them respond to our contributions.  Human beings are social creatures; we need to connect with one another.  In a status on his Facebook page, Dr. Paddison asks, “Does anyone else think that Facebook is really a forum for one to affirm one's existence in the Transcendental?”  My answer is yes, it is.  We need our existence to be verified, both in this world and in the one we cannot see.  There is nothing wrong with seeking this verification in the virtual world.  In fact, for many of us, this is the only place we can find the connection to others that we seek on a personal level.

In the past, people found this connection in the material world much more often than we do today.  Since the industrial revolution human beings have been more and more disconnected from one another.  This disconnect was further implemented by the invention of the automobile.  The sense of freedom that motorized transportation has brought is coupled with the ability to move further away from the nuclear family and childhood friendships.  Non-agricultural industry, while bringing larger groups of people together, had the effect of breaking down the sense of community that was once prevalent.  I believe these two developments have worked together to create a common sense of aloneness in individuals.

In the past, people found community in common needs and the pursuits of daily survival.  Barn raisings, threshing bees, quilting bees, church suppers – all of these were reasons for the community to gather socially in a more agriculturally oriented United States.  In the towns, while men gathered at barber shops and pubs, women often met with their neighbors to have coffee and conversation while watching over small children.  This is not to say that there wasn’t the occasional loner, hermit, misfit, or other individual who found themselves disconnected from the society that thrived around them.  There have always been individuals and families who lived far from civilization.  Sometimes, the social gatherings occurred only annually, looked forward to for months in advance.  Yet, even this anticipation created a connection to those with whom one would meet during these events.

We don’t work together in the way families once did.  Farm families of the past worked the land together, they ate together, they gathered with their community together.  In the past, children walked to school together, played together, worked together to create events like holiday plays, graduation recitations, and annual picnics.

In a more ancient past for most of us and a more recent past for Native Americans and other indigenous peoples, entire communities gathered regularly for hunting and gathering, worship, healing, cooking, and eating.

I don’t reflect on these things to idolize the past nor to denigrate the present.  My purpose is to point out that because, for the most part, we no longer do these things, social media meets a need that is no longer met in the way it once was.  After the industrial revolution, before labor unions made their mark and labor laws were passed, those who worked long hours in factories were likely the first to suffer from the kind of disconnect that I think many of us experience today.  We are separated from those we love for many long hours in transit and at work.  We cannot make the same kind of connections with co-workers today that we would have made with the neighbors  with whom we planted crops and shared meals on a regular basis.  The work environment is too competitive, too impersonal, for us to allow ourselves true friendship and community.  Those of us who have let our guard down in that arena have often suffered for it, finding those we trust to be competitors in a game we didn’t know we were playing.

Children may walk to school together, play together on the playground, and sit in class and learn together, but for many, after-school playtime is a thing of the past.  It is partially the fault of the fascination with all things electronic.  However, I believe it is also a result of a disconnection from our neighbors and the distrust parents have for strangers.  Too many bad things have happened to children.  We don’t know the people who live around us.  How can we allow our children to go out, explore life, and connect with others without our supervision – something we no longer have time for?

We are disconnected in the physical world.  Though we may be connected on a spiritual or quantum level, we don’t know each other in the material world.  We become lonely in the midst of the crowd.  We seek companionship, friendship, community.  We seek approval on a personal level.  Some still find it in their churches or other places of worship.  Some find it in the traditional places, like common interest clubs or, if they are lucky, in workplaces or schools where trust and interdependence is encouraged.  However, many do not find it in any of these places.  So, they seek it elsewhere, and they find it in social media.

Is social media like Facebook a place for scrapbooking and gossip?  Of course it is.  These are the kinds of conversations people once had at the barber shop and the beauty parlor. Sharing personal and family events at annual festivals and church suppers were once commonplace.  In ancient times, sitting around the fire discussing the day’s hunt and the development of the children must have been integral ways of connecting.  As users of social media, does “disconnection drive use, and connection reward it,” as the authors of the psychological study referenced above state?  Of course it does.

I didn’t need a study to tell me this, did you?

Is there something wrong with that?

"The Quilting Bee" by Grandma Moses

*FOLLOWUP NOTE:  The "OMG" message from Dr. Paddison was intended for someone else.  That's led to my discovery of the abstracts and posts that got me thinking...

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