The Farcebook Test

It's true!I’ve always been rather undecided about the Internet.  Being a web developer, the Internet is the platform that is the basis of my professional existence.  Without the Internet who knows where my career would have landed?  I use it extensively as a resource tool in performing my daily tasks.  Whenever I get stumped as to how solve a programmatic issue I jump to the web and use it as it was originally intended – as a tool that provides shared information.  The result is I rarely have to fall back on referencing things in the massive collection of programming books I have at my disposal every day.  The Internet is an expansive collection of knowledge and that is an awesome thing!

The other side of the Internet doesn’t necessarily thrill me.  This aspect of the web is now referred to as Social Media.  I once worked for a company that added social media to their existing web site.  From a programming perspective, it’s not a difficult thing to do.  However, from the logical standpoint of making social media work for those who participate in it, well, it’s a ridiculous notion.  The reason being that you can program something for people to use, make it slick and bring it to the forefront of today’s mainstream, but computer code cannot make people act like people.  It can’t make people interact on a true social scale because humans are flawed.  The best-written computer code in the world can’t make people do what they aren’t capable of doing.  And these days, people aren’t capable of communicating unless they’re texting or yacking on their damn cell phones while driving.

Last October I decided to perform a test by setting up a Facebook account.  As a default I disliked Facebook.  I thought it was just another useless fad that people who had nothing better to do become addicted to.  It’s right up there with Twitter as far as I’m concerned.  As part of my test I set up a few objectives.  One of them was to tie up some loose ends with some people I went to high school with.  Another objective was to get in touch with some people from way back in my childhood.  At the end of my test (today) I met all but one of my objectives and I was satisfied with the results from that perspective.  But the overall teachings of my test were both surprising and predictable.  In the end, Facebook proved to me to be just another useless fad that mocks people’s inability to communicate outside of what we used to call the norm.

Let me explain.

There was an incident in high school between a girl and I that had a profound affect on my senior year.  My grades plummeted, I struggled with thoughts of suicide almost daily, and in the end I barely graduated.  As the years passed I got passed it, but it had been in the back of my head for nearly 30 years.  One of my objectives with Facebook was to confront her and get everything patched up.  Facebook actually allowed us to do that.  Misunderstandings were corrected and that 30 year-old burden was lifted off my shoulders.  I have to admit it felt so wonderful after all that time to be able to resolve that issue.  It’s not like it had made me a bitter person for all those years, but it was just one of those wounds that was left open for a very long time.  Thank you, Margaret.

Facebook allowed me to catch up with several of my old friends.  Being that most of my high school friends are still in Michigan, it troubled me that a good percentage of them had fallen victim to the economic troubles the state is having.  But after the initial phase of exchanging “what have you been up to” stories after becoming friends with people, communication with these “friends” came to a screeching halt except for in the case of one or two of them.  I think if you live in a closer proximity to your Facebook friends you can actually use the tool to set up events, dates, etc.  But what the hell, that’s what a phone is for, right?

I was able to find people through Facebook that otherwise I never would have crossed paths with again during my time on this planet.  Recently I friended two optometrists I used to work with back in the early 90’s that, unbeknownst to them, had made a huge impact on my life.  It was great being able to tell them that and to see them flourishing in their profession.  I was able to find the girl from third grade that was the recipient of my first crush.  I was able to find the two guys I did everything with up until the sixth grade.  At the same time, I was unable to reconnect with my second best friend from my high school days.  Oh, I found his wife, but she was unable to open any sort of communication channel for us.  That was too bad because the chance was really there.  I had spent almost 30 years trying to find someone that was very special to me throughout high school.  When I finally found her through someone on Facebook, she never replied to any of the emails I sent her.  I know she is active on Facebook because she has 247 friends.  For some unknown reason, she just doesn’t want to catch up with me.  One important objective not met during my test.  That’s too bad, Lana.

I found it curiously strange that once a friend request was accepted by someone, nothing was ever exchanged between that person and I.  Why would someone friend someone and then never have any sort of exchange?  It reminded me of the South Park episode where the kids use the number of friends they get on Facebook as an indicator of popularity.  What good is a friend who isn’t really a friend?  I maxed out at 74 friends.  Some people had well over 300.  Wow…over 300 friends, but I’d bet these people are the loneliest on Facebook and probably in their own community.

But aside from all of the reacquainting experiences, Facebook didn’t show me anything that makes me want to continue as a member.  It offers stupid little widgets that people get hung up on.  From a technical perspective, it has many programmatic flaws and sometimes I’m just shocked at how such a shabby site can be so popular.  I guess most people don’t know any better.  But for all of the excitement, Facebook is only as good and useful as the people that use it can make it.  In other words, people are people.  The exchange of real ideas and information that we used to do face-to-face cannot be replicated by a crappy piece of software that runs on the web.  Even artificial intelligence can be defeated by a human because artificial intelligence is programmed by…humans.  I’d much rather talk to someone on the phone than have to login to a web site and read something that has no inflection.

duh...In the end I can see why people can get addicted to Facebook.  But I can also see why it is really just a fad.  It simply cannot take the place of face-to-face exchanges of communication.  Facebook mirrors our society today, which for some is a good thing.  But for me, that mirror, when held up to us all, shows that we as humans have lost so much in our ability to communicate.  It shows that we have diminished ourselves to brief texting statements without vocal inflection.  It proves that we are no longer capable of the real exchange of ideas and thoughts.  It’s a whole other issue, but it started with cell phones and it won’t end with Facebook.  I’m not dissing the people I interacted with on Facebook here – I’m critiquing Facebook as an Internet entity.

To those who I shared meaningful discussions with on Facebook, I thank you.  It was great catching up again.  To those who believe Facebook is the savior of the human fabric, I’d recommend you get yourself a new sewing machine and create something more worthy than moon boots or big bell jeans.  Or better yet, pick up the phone and call a family member, a friend, or a neighbor and speak with them.

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  1. Paula McGlothin

     /  September 19, 2010

    My Dearest Kurt:

    I both agree and disagree with your blog. I love being reconnected with people I probably never would have seen or talked to again in my lifetime, if it weren’t for Facebook. I love that I can see who my kids are chatting with and what about. I love that I can see pics of peoples kids and hear how proud they are of them. I love that I can play a game of scrabble with my good friend Janis. I love that I get updates about people who are in need and people that are ready to help. I love that you and I had a chance to say hey and that on an unnerving day in September you left some words on my pics that helped settle those nerves, even if just for a moment. So many reasons. You’re right, people are just people. Doing the best they can the best way they know how. None of us are perfect. We may not have it all together….But together, we have it all. People are simply so busy there isn’t always time, money or opportunity to physically meet. That’s what makes this such a blessing. I wish that wasn’t true, but that’s the world we live in. I respect your opinion, but I hope you decide to stay. ❤

  2. Mink

     /  September 19, 2010

    Nice post. I agree with your views on Facebook, it is a fad and is affecting how the world communicates. Kids today don’t talk anymore, they text. Is the next generation going to have any kind of social skills? How will our future leaders negotiate with other countries, via text? Without face-to-face contact could wars be started because some countries leader took a text the wrong way? Hmmm…


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