I subscribe to Inside Higher Ed’s RSS feed, which delivered notice of an article by Alex Golub titled The Flaws of Facebook. Now while I’m going to react negatively to a portion of his work, there are some valid issues he’s addressing. If you’re a professor who might need to place more than one level of barrier on your social life, you need to pay attention to what he says.
But on to what struck me …
It seems that as long as there have been people there have been advances in technology and people to point out their flaws, limitations, or even their tendency to create social chaos or moral depravity. You know, dogs and cats living together stuff.
I’m guessing the first guy to light a fire didn’t get off so well, as his buddies feared the whole forest would burn, and his parents were afraid he’d start having sex by the campfire with girls from other tribes. There’s something new; there goes the neighborhood.
And need I mention television? Before TV showed up we obviously lived in this totally moral world where nobody whatever had sex by a campfire, and surely not in front of a TV, there being none. But television came along, ruined our morals and destroyed our educational system so that everybody would be stupid.
Well, everybody became stupid except for those pesky scientists and engineers who were busy inventing the computer, then turning it into a PC and even corralling its power in a portable phone-like device. At the same time they were inventing the internet, and of course the internet obviously caused pornography.
Oh, wait. There was pornography before the internet. Sorry.
What I’m getting at here is that we regularly blame our problems living moral and successful lives as human beings on new technology, when new technology merely provides the means of doing what we were going to do anyhow more efficiently. (Well, we can do it in new ways as well.) Contrary to popular opinion, it really wasn’t safe to leave your children unsupervised in the 1950s, nor presumably in the stone age, any more than it’s safe to have your children on the internet without instruction and appropriate supervision.
These days technology moves so fast that many people are being left behind, yet I think many people felt left behind even when technology moved much more slowly. But the answer was very much the same–Learn to use the new technology positively and effectively.
I’m frankly appalled at parents who say they can’t learn to use a computer enough to supervise their children, or manage their lives as necessary. It’s necessary today. You have to do it. We’re going to have to adapt and learn to use the available technology, to make it work for us instead of controlling us. But that’s really not new by nature; it’s just coming at us a bit faster. We aren’t introducing new sins; we’re just making the old sins more efficiently available. The same internet that provides pornography can provide me with my pastor’s sermon when I’m sick on Sunday morning.
So what does this have to do with Alex Golub’s article? Most of it has very little. One problem I see is simply the expectation that technology will provide all of the solutions rather than just some. But that isn’t the main thing.
Facebook (my facebook profile), like other high-tech services, provides options that people in the culture want. I believe it would be technologically feasible to allow more granularity in one’s friend choices, as he desires. It might be coming. But I suspect that the vast majority of the users just don’t think of the world that way. Facebook would have to consider whether people wanted to deal with multiple levels of friendship or multiple circles. It’s certainly possible technologically, but would it actually attract that many people? I don’t know. I suspect the folks at Facebook either have already considered it or will at some point in the future.
But right now, for many people, myself included, Facebook provides quite sufficient “granularity” in our friends lists. For a more tightly controlled professional connections, I used LinkedIN (my LinkedIN profile), which I actually use much less than Facebook precisely because my professional life is well suited to being done very publicly.
Living on Facebook is, in my view, not much more difficult than real life. You have to decide what you want to say in that environment and what you don’t. Many people seem to have difficulty with this. From living in church and work environments, however, I have always had to guard my tongue with certain people while I can be freer with others. The internet has made it much more likely there will be a permanent record, but the same level of care applies.