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Facebook….

July 29, 2013

………WTF?

This will probably be dripping with puns, bad jokes, overstatements, understatements, dirty gym socks, and all sorts of other stuff before I’m done. You will have a number of options:

  • One: deal with it

  • Two: get over it

  • Three: get over yourself

  • Four: do absolutely nothing…simply wander around with your thumb up your ass and that vacant expression on your face.

Call me an “old fart”, if you please, or call me cheese doodle, I don’t give a toot, but the fact is I am of the wrong generation to fully appreciate whatever pheromone it is that exudes so profusely from Facebook and all of those other internet soul-sucks that are doing a twenty first century version of the Pied Piper shtick. So, I asked myself this morning, “Self, why do you participate?”

Good question, though I doubt I’ll ever come up with a rational explanation…..the operative word being “rational”. One thing I thought of is that I like to see the pictures that family members and old friends post. Nobody sends stuff like that through the Pony Express anymore, so if I want to see periodic pictures of my grandson during his transition from two feet six to six feet two I either have to jump on a plane/train to where he lives on a regular basis or learn how to speak “lol-wtf” and check the story out on Facebook where I can get minute by minute reports of every new accomplishment or behavioral abomination. Film at eleven.

Another thing I enjoy is the ability to maintain some sort of connection with people I haven’t seen for more than fifty years. The question is, If I haven’t had any contact with someone for more than fifty years, was that because we couldn’t find each other or because we didn’t give enough of a crap to even try? Nevertheless, I find myself doing what I suppose a lot of other people do by conducting periodic searches for good old “What’s-His-Face”.

The diversion was fun when it all started to build up a head of steam and I got my first computer back around 1991 or so. “AOL On LINE” was all the rage, and it went downhill from there.

At some point, I began to take a serious look at the whole thing and came up with sort of a cognitive cartoon of a guy sitting in the middle of an offal pit muttering “wtf….?” Why am I here, and what am I going to do about it, if anything?

“Social” network

I understand the concept of “social networking”, but from a more archaic perspective than the one I believe the term is now supposed to imply. I studied the behavioral sciences in college and worked in related fields for twenty five years. I guess I just like to figure out what makes people tick. I’m not unique in that endeavor by any means, but, other than a whole passel of books, my academic and experiential learning involved predominantly direct, physical, sensory contact. The social skills I learned, and then learned to teach; the communication skills I learned, and then learned to teach, required visual, auditory, and vocal interaction.

Essentially, “social networking” still means the same thing it has since the term was coined, but the Digital Revolution has injected significant changes to both methodology and outcomes.

In my book, there’s nothing particularly social about keyboarding consonant salads while riding a bicycle, talking on the phone, and forwarding lame jokes to anybody with a connection. It’s the communications cognate of tossing a golf ball onto a gymnasium floor covered from wall to wall, end to end, with carefully balanced dominos and then bragging about your aim.

A social network is a structure of connections. Getting ahead in the world, or just plain getting around for that matter, is often a matter of who you know as much as it is of what you know. “Connecting” requires a little more than just copying the names off of the bathroom wall. Connections require more intimacy than that, though that can certainly vary from someone you met at a workshop once and had some interests in common with, or it can be life-long best friends and people you might have met through them. A connection has either a purpose or a potential purpose, so there is value in maintaining that association. The value may be socially vague, as in you just enjoy hanging out together, or specifically business oriented, but it fulfills a need.

Friends

One thousand, three hundred sixty four friends? Pardon my enunciated English but, “give me a goddamned break!” I’ve lived in towns with fewer people than that. That’s bigger than many battalions, and they all wear nametags to help out. People who can’t get through a pop quiz without a crib sheet claim to have five hundred or a thousand “friends” or more. I’d bet a kidney they couldn’t recite all of their names. For that matter, I bet they couldn’t name the members of their high school graduating classes. Let’s bump it up a rung. I bet not one of them could rattle off their home room roster!

To me, a “friend” is someone who knows my name, address, phone number, and a whole bunch of personal stuff about me that others don’t and that I think of as being “private”. A friend is someone with whom you trust “private” stuff, because that is part of your essence, part of who you are. I have extremely few friends, and I’m married to one of them.

A friend is not just somebody I bumped carts with in Wal-mart, both of us smiling pleasantly and nodding insinuated apologies while at the same time mumbling “Stupid shit!” But, it seems to be that way in the digital dimension. If you encounter someone in cyberspace and exchange enough information to equate a Real World Wal-mart smile or nod, it’s friend city! People collect “friends” like baseball cards or something, but without giving a toot about all of the stats. Numbers. Names and numbers. It’s more about ones and zeroes than what they may signify, anyway.

What is an “acquaintance”? I never hung out with an “acquaintance”. I hung out with friends. My friend might have another friend that he invited along. I met him. We shook hands. He’s still my friend’s friend, not mine. I wouldn’t even call him an “acquaintance” at that juncture.

Communication

An odd phenomenon that has developed as an intricate characteristic of the Digital Dimension in general, and the Social Network environment specifically, is the innate absence of boundaries. Perhaps the fact that communication in this venue is a sharply abbreviated substitute for the traditional modes of exchanging information established over tens of tens of thousands of years. I learned that there is more to “communication” than just talking. It requires listening as well, and that isn’t all done with the ears. Effective listening involves observing “cues”, being able to “read” them, and responding constructively. Some people are highly skilled communicators, and some are lousy.

Communicating on the internet, as in social networking sites, loses the benefit of the “cues” we were taught; at least those over forty were. The development of a set of effective digital communications skills is still in the very early stages of learning by experience. As was true in the case of many experiments down through the ages, there are some explosions. Expressions such as “OMG” and “LOL” are somewhat like “cues”, but there are subtle differences in how they may be interpreted cross-culturally, just as are various facial expressions and gestures in the physical world.

I learned that only about 15% of what we call “communication” occurs in the form of actual words. I have no idea how that principle will be adapted for a universe where communication is dominated by impersonal electronic devices.

Boundaries

Along with the challenges of communicating effectively in the digital, electronic environment of social networking sites and tools like Twitter, Skype, and others (at least with Skype one has access to visual and auditory cues), there are the issues of boundaries, personal space, and privacy. With Google, Facebook, and other amassing huge databases of personal information about users, and interconnecting through multiple subsidiaries and functions, the traditional understanding of personal “boundaries” is losing its traditional value as “currency” in the digital “society” just as it has been for a generation in the “real” world.

The physical society, now undergoing adaptations and changes in its system of social mores, at the same time the brand new cyber-society is thrashing about to discover a beginning system of its own, makes for a considerable amount of miscommunication. As with the disruption in communication cues, the dilution, or even elimination, of personal boundaries removes important guidelines relied upon for interpersonal relationships.

I have, like others, observed the irony of people raging indignant about electronic surveillance while at the same time feeding Google and Facebook, et al, by the gigabyte with everything but their monthly bank statements.

On being cut adrift…

Consequently, I need a strategy for effectively and comfortably insinuating myself into the Digital Dimension to a degree established and managed by ME rather than by some
putz telecommuting from his recliner, or worse yet, from the can.

The last time I happened upon this convergence of realities, I simply quit in a snit. That was silly. Quitting is a viable option, I just don’t like the idea of doing it while simultaneously trying to juggle a mouthful of invective.

What I think I’m going to do is bring my modest FRIENDS list back to a basic “everybody gets everything” status and then work back from there. People with whom I “communicate” (archaic definition) on a regular basis, or with whom I happen to share a HUGE amount of genetic material, will be right there at the top, like the cream on an old bottle of milk.

People with whom I bumped carts at Wal-mart, though I don’t think I really have any of those, will be “unfriended“. The insinuated emotional blackmail inherent in that term is obvious, which may help to explain why so many people have hundreds of “friends”.

People who somehow showed up on my list because they knew a relative or friend, and I didn’t want to miff my relative or friend, will just have to find someone else’s family pics to poke through.

I’m starting to “friend” a whole bunch of folks from my high school class because we have a big reunion this year. Once the main shindig is over and done with, we’ll probably go back to not being aware of each other’s existence for the next fifty years or some reasonable portion thereof. Nothing personal, but if we didn’t hang out together back in the fifties and sixties, and haven’t been within a thousand miles of each other for the last fifty years, who cares? I wish everyone well. Congratulations to all of us for still being on this side of the lawn. Don’t take any wooden nickels.

That may sound harsh, but I really don’t think anybody will know or give a toot that their mooring line has been cut since most of those to be thusly cut loose don’t even know they’ve been moored in the first place. Like me, they’ve got more important things to worry about.

 

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