Will Social Networking Sites Like Facebook Destroy Our Society?

Are social networking websites like Facebook negatively impacting people's ability to effectively communicate with each other?

As adults -- including members of the news media!!! -- begin acting like their text message-crazed children, mightn't the very way they convey thoughts and ideas be changed forever...and not for the better?

Such seems counterintuitive as Americans across the fruited plain electronically reunite with old classmates and people they haven't seen in decades.

Yet, according to the Wall Street Journal's Elizabeth Bernstein, such connections come with risks as you may find out more about someone than you bargained for...and much too frequently (h/t Alan Murray):

I'm tired of loved ones—you know who you are—who claim they are too busy to pick up the phone, or even write a decent email, yet spend hours on social-media sites, uploading photos of their children or parties, forwarding inane quizzes, posting quirky, sometimes nonsensical one-liners or tweeting their latest whereabouts. ("Anyone know a good restaurant in Berlin?")

One of the big problems is how we converse. Typing still leaves something to be desired as a communication tool; it lacks the nuances that can be expressed by body language and voice inflection. "Online, people can't see the yawn," says Patricia Wallace, a psychologist at Johns Hopkins University's Center for Talented Youth and author of "The Psychology of the Internet."

But let's face it, the problem is much greater than which tools we use to communicate. It's what we are actually saying that's really mucking up our relationships. "Oh my God, a college friend just updated her Facebook status to say that her 'teeth are itching for a flossing!'" shrieked a friend of mine recently. "That's gross. I don't want to hear about what's going on inside her mouth." [...]

Amidst all this heightened chatter, we're not saying much that's interesting, folks. Rather, we're breaking a cardinal rule of companionship: Thou Shalt Not Bore Thy Friends.

Admit it: you're often shocked by the absurd things your friends post on their walls for all to see...and they're just as likely surprised by some of your inanities.

But also at stake are the often offensive e-personalities your loved ones affect:

Consider, for example, how people you know often seem different online—not just gussied up or more polished, but bolder, too, displaying sides of their personalities you have never seen before.

Alex Gilbert, 27, who works for a nonprofit in Houston that teaches creative writing to kids, is still puzzling over an old friend—"a particularly masculine-type dude"—who plays in a heavy-metal band and heads a motorcycle club yet posts videos on Facebook of "uber cute" kittens. "It's not fodder for your real-life conversation," Mr. Gilbert says. "We're not going to get together and talk about how cute kittens are."

Experienced this yet? Or how 'bout this?

And then there's jealousy. In all that information you're posting about your life—your vacation, your kids, your promotions at work, even that margarita you just drank—someone is bound to find something to envy.

Or this?

Facebook can also be a mecca for passive-aggressive behavior. "Suddenly, things you wouldn't say out loud in conversation are OK to say because you're sitting behind a computer screen," says Kimberly Kaye, 26, an arts writer in New York.

I have to confess that for several years, friends and colleagues practically demanded I become a Facebook member. It was somehow rude or unprofessional of me to be ignoring this new social medium.

With this in mind, a few months ago my wife decided enough was enough and actually set up a Facebook account for me.

The experience thus far has been rewarding, but a scene at a party for my daughter's soccer team a few years ago gives me grave concern.

As parents spoke in the kitchen, our thirteen and fourteen-year-old daughters lounged in the den texting each other.

Granted, the use of new technology is alluring, but to text folks sitting next to you rather than actually speaking to them seemed horrifying to the adults in the other room.

Now, many adult Facebook members are behaving somewhat similarly as our text message-crazed offspring.

Though this medium might be increasing interaction, isn't it likely decreasing the quality of such interactions?

After all, there's a ceiling on the number of characters and words one can put in a Facebook comment. Different than message boards or chatrooms, this surely acts to reduce the complexity of the discussions.

In fact, most comments have become Twitterish -- a brief, pithy sentence or two, and on you go.

Is this the future of interpersonal relationships? How shallow and uninformed will future generations be if this is the extent of their conversations?

And what of the news media? As it currently stands, the broadcast evening news programs report current events at what appears to be a fourth-grade level.

Unfortunately, that's today's fourth-grade, not when you and I actually learned something in such classes.

It goes without saying that the morning shows are even worse. 

And the daytime talk programs like "The View" and "Oprah?"

Well, I was forced to watch the former a few years ago for professional reasons of little consequence at the moment, and I believed at the time that I lost as many intelligence quotient points in that hour as Gene Wilder's character did at the end of the Mel Brooks classic "Young Frankenstein."

As more and more people communicate via Facebook and Twitter, including media members, is it a metaphysical certitude that press reports will continue to be dumbed down and simplified so as to fit this new diminished standard?

Before you answer consider what the Jeff Goldblum character said in the film "The Big Chill" about the desired length of articles at People magazine (paraphrased): the average piece should take as long to read as the average person needs to move his bowels. 

With this in mind, just imagine how uninformed the public will be when news reports are as brief and trivial as a Facebook comment.

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Noel Sheppard's picture