August 9, 2013

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

When we actually come face to face with Facebook

Cynthia DewesYou’ve heard of the social networks: Facebook, My Space, You Tube, whatever. Notice the operative word “social,” which usually means being in contact with another. As in actually encountering someone in person or by telephone, thereby being able to discern the attitude or emotional status of the person. Kind of like using Skype without craning your neck.

According to what I’ve seen on Facebook, which admittedly is not a whole lot, “unsocial” might be more like what goes on there. Either many Facebookers don’t care what others think of them, or else they don’t realize how they come across.

Maybe they’ve just found a way to appear social without the possible messy side effects of misunderstandings, ensnaring relationships or just plain boredom. Maybe Facebook should come with a “side effects” warning.

For instance, we’ve heard that Facebook is valuable because it permits us to connect with schoolmates, neighbors or colleagues we’ve known in the past but lost touch with. Doesn’t anyone think this might just be on purpose? Maybe we really didn’t want to stay in touch. Literally.

On the other hand, connecting with people from one’s past can be really pleasant. Recently, not with the dubious help of Facebook or some other social aid, a third-grade crush of mine, now a widower, reappeared on the scene. When I confided my former crush to a “girlfriend,” also from the past, she said, “I’ve got a crush on him now!” But, I digress.

Some people have used Facebook to make fun of others, damaging their reputations. Sometimes this has even led to suicides among vulnerable teenagers. But sometimes it’s just used to show off, the modern version of snail mail’s bragging Christmas letter.

Perhaps it’s the digital camera to be blamed for the avalanche of photographs people send each other on Facebook. Now, I love to see pictures of my grands and greats, scenes of shared good times and even the grands and greats of friends as much as anyone, but a hundred? I mean, really.

Then there’s the time factor. By limiting ourselves to two meals a day or sleeping only four hours a night, maybe we could keep up with all the stuff sent by the Facebook friends we’ve accumulated.

And that’s another thing: Where did all these “friends” come from? Who are they? Are we sure they’re not from Nigeria? Certainly, I’ve never heard of most of them.

Dr. Phil, TV’s upscale version of Jerry Springer, known affectionately to many of us as “Dr. Pill,” often interviews guests who’ve been scammed by users of Facebook or similar social sites. That’s because they’re essentially anonymous venues in which criminals can operate freely. No one really knows who is putting information on the sites, and the gullible and pathetically needy wind up penniless and embarrassed.

All this is not to say that Facebook should be censored or banned. After all, it’s freedom of speech and, like most things, it’s a good product that can be used for evil purposes by evil or thoughtless people. It has the advantages of economy, speed and easy access to lots of people at once.

But maybe we should remember what “social” really means. Maybe we might manage time differently or set priorities so that we could actually be social in person.

That way we could see what’s in another’s eyes or be able to judge the emotion in their voices. Maybe that way we could understand what’s in the other’s heart, as God understands ours. Hmmm. Do you think God needs to be on Facebook?

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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