Social networks don't exist in the abstract

Channeling Alan Levine’s “Being There” thesis tonight:

It’d been awhile since I’d logged onto Facebook. Obviously the joint’s still jumping. Last time I’d checked in, though, it all looked very busy and co-optive to me. A superchatportalfeedgame environment. Carnivalesque at best, but the smell of all the funnel cakes and the strained voices of the barkers were getting to me a bit–at least, that’s how it felt.

But today I logged on again, not to experience Facebook, but to look for connections, accept some friend requests, find the birthdays. But that’s the Facebook experience, you say. Yes and no. Considered in the abstract, Facebook becomes a superchatportalfeedgame environment. But in it, even with all the blare and busy stuff, are my friends and family, and they’re enjoying the rides and keeping the ties a-binding.

I don’t want to say that I suspended my critical awareness while I was in there today. I don’t think I did, actually. But I did suspend something. Disbelief? Judgment? I’m not sure. I do know, however, that thinking in it instead of thinking about it yields different results. And that’s also something to think about.

Besides, I got two great links from my son who’s away at college, and who’s missed very much around these parts. The first was this thoughtful account of video games and diegeses and metanarratives. The comments are also quite a wonderful read. The discourse here would not be out of place in a senior English seminar–or in any introduction to film studies. Also, and it’s selfish of me to say so, when my son said “here, you’ll really like this,” and behold, I really liked it, I felt, well, understood, and close, and connected. Being there meant being with my son, for that moment; Facebook was simply the platform (though of course there’s nothing simple about that platform).

The second link was not directed to me, but I was curious about it because of the way my son framed the link with a short comment on his wall. So I went there, too, and learned more: more about repressive governments, gaming culture, dissidents, and my son’s own growing political awareness.

It wasn’t a dinner-table conversation, but the connection had its own strength, integrity, and authenticity. And the platform enabled the connection–but only if I was there and answerable.

Being there indeed. Thanks for the reminder, Ian.

3 thoughts on “Social networks don't exist in the abstract

  1. Interesting. As a fellow parent, I find that social networking sites (Facebook, in particular) allow us to get to know our children in a different and fascinating way. While she may consider it stalking, I am continually surprised by the way my daughter (senior at Baylor) uses Facebook to maintain friendships, to expose herself through status updates and photos, to show interests I didn’t know she had through posting of links she finds important, etc. I am also quite jealous of her clever Twitter posts.
    But, is it a good thing that with these tools we expose so much more of ourselves to so many more folks? I don’t know.
    Bah. Who knows?

  2. @Becky The answer is “no one,” I guess–but there are some interesting guesses out there, including more than a few of mine littering the landscape.

    Some folks believe we will be brought closer in ways that will resemble the intimate knowledge villagers had of each other (for better or for worse–those small towns can be social minefields) before the age of cities and suburbs. This is part of what McLuhan meant by the phrase “global village.” Others suspect that we’re going to see even more dramatic changes in how we conceptualize and experience all sorts of relationships. I tend to fall into this camp, as does my friend and colleague Michael Wesch at Kansas State (he’s an anthropologist who’s done some astonishing and wonderful work in this area–look for his presentations on YouTube). I think we may, if we’re patient and resourceful and discerning, approach the condition John Donne describes in Meditation 17, the “no man is an island” meditation, when he says that in Paradise we will be like books in a library “lying open to each other,” reading each other into being in a kind of infinite fellowship.

    Though I’m painfully aware of the dangers and unintended consequences, I’m also optimistic about these changes, these possibilities. I’m optimistic in part because I’m a teacher and teachers are committed to optimism. But I’m also optimistic because we experience so little of each other in a lifetime. Even with loved ones, we have very little time and opportunity for deep communion. If there’s a way to transcend time and space and the busyness of each day and know each other in greater depth, breadth, or both, I’m willing to give that a try and see where it leads. Sometimes it leads to cool folks with cool cat avatars–and that’s not only fun but rewarding when the conversation ensues.

    Thanks for stopping by!

  3. Pingback: Are online social networks a net gain for humanity? « Gardner Writes

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