I have a Blog, I have a Facebook page. I use Twitter. I have a cell phone. I like them. I use them. They don’t rule my life, they don’t keep me from associating with the people I love. On the contrary, they have brought me closer to people I already love, and caused me to love people I hardly knew.
A good friend of mine has made repeated reference to the fact that these things above are just examples of a narcissistic and exhibitionist culture. He may be right, because there is a great amount of navel-gazing going on. But it’s more than that.
When I’m using twitter or Facebook, I update a maybe 10 times a day. Not because I think I have such profound things to say, or because I am doing something interesting. I do it to take the place of (especially in the winter) accidental and incidental interactions with people I know well, and people I know casually.
I have family who live far away. Email was great, but it lacked the random small talk upon which relationships often thrive. Sure, if I have a problem or a joy, or an interesting tidbit, I can send it off to a group of email pals. But chit-chat builds bonds. I can now get a feel for their moods, they can get a feel for mine. I know who is sick, who is single, who is unemployed.
Not only do I know, but I can actually have a real world response to a real world issue, made possible by knowledge I never would have known without Facebook or Twitter. When my brother-in-law was sick, I could send him a book and some snacks by way of Amazon.com. When a college professor/ Facebook friend of mine was sick, I could actually hop in the car and bring him soup. Without Facebook, I might not have even known these guys were under the weather.
Eavesdropping on the conversations people have with each other is another niche filled by Facebook. I learn a lot from what I overhear. This is true in the real world, like when I overhear my neighbors talking to their kids, or see them leave all dressed up to go out somewhere. It would be stupid of them to call me and say, “Hey, we’re going out to eat at a fancy place!” It doesn’t rise to the level of newsy, but I like to know.
The same for Facebook and Twitter. My new semester doesn’t merit a full-on email, but it’s part of the little bit of knowledge people who care about me carry around in the back of their minds. It brings us closer.
I ask myself if I really have better relationships with real people just because of these cyber-commons? I can say without reservation that I do. You can call it narcissitic, exhibitionistic or voyeuristic. I’m comfortable with that. I think it exaggerates the basic feeling I have about Facebook, et al, but doesn’t get it entirely wrong. It is about enjoying listening, communicating, watching and liking each other.