Confessions of a Social Network Leech

My co-workers talk about facebook alot. Usually the site comes up at least once a week, with someone gossiping about what old friend they found, or what embarrasing high school picture somebody else tagged. Most of them are in the mid-to-late thirties age range which seem to have discovered facebook just this year.  Usually I just listen and smile, since there’s something fairly amusing in hearing people older than me talk about facebook. Last week though, I did chime in when our Director of Operations made the comment that she almost never posted anything to facebook herself. At that point I chimed in, saying “me too, I’m a total social network leech.”

Ever since then I’ve thinking about my parasitic relationship with my main social apps, facebook and twitter, trying to figure out why I don’t contribute much at all. For a time I considered the possibility that my life must just be boring. After all when you get down to it, my days all have basically the same structure, wake, work, home, dinner, write, write, occasionally hang out with girlfriend. The weekend varies things up slightly, but there’s still not much to report on. Of course within that structure there’s alot that changes. Work and writing are different everday, but it’s not likely I can really capture what happens during the day in a 140 character text bite.

Still I don’t think this is the answer, I think there’s ultimately some sort of mentality about social networks that I haven’t quite got. I’m not alone either. I noticed today while on facebook that I have just over 400 friends. Yet, I’d estimate that only about 75 of those show up in my news feed on a regular basis. Similarly on twitter, I follow about a dozen people, but on most days I only see posts from 2.

And ultimately these people aren’t talking about their day to day activities. They’re sharing news stories, cracking jokes, and generally just letting loose whatever is on the top of their minds. I don’t do that. Part of it may be technology, I have a phone that likely dates from before I graduated high school and wouldn’t even be considered remotely smart, even on the short bus of cell phones. I can’t do like one of my friends and post pictures from throughout his day. But beyond that, it’s also that twitter or facebook are not the first place I think of sharing things. I’ll call my girlfriend, or one of my roommates to deal with that story that I’m bursting to tell.

That being said, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with turning to the social web first or in conjunction with others. In fact, I’m glad alot of people do, because I love the quick intimacy that I have with those I follow on twitter of facebook. It makes hanging out in person easier and more natural, and keeps me feeling connected with many friends I haven’t seen in a while.

Of course the interesting thing is that while I feel connected with them, they probably don’t feel the same way about me. And I’m not sure what I want to do about that.  I find it surprising with all the talk about the false intimacy these online social tools supposedly cause that no one has latched onto this. Social networks create sort of mini celebrities in our networks, whose lives we follow in impressive detail while they remain mostly unaware of us. Is this a bad thing? I’m not sure. After all it’s not like anyone mistakes these sort of facebook stalking relationships for a real friendship. For most of us, it’s just a way to pass the time, and keep up with what old friends are doing. And when it gets down to it, there’s probably more value in knowing what your old high school friend is doing this weekend than in knowing who Lindsay Lohan hooked up with this week. But maybe there’s something I’m not seeing. What do you think?

EDIT: I found this interesting link just googling “facebook false intimacy.”  It’s not looking at quite the same thing I am, but it’s very close, and offers a good example of just what can be problematic about the social network sphere, focusing on what happens when it becomes a replacement for more genuine communcation.

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