The Social Network – Or, the Sorry State of Social Networking

By Dominique Flemings

After too many recommendations to ignore, I sat down last Saturday night to watch last year’s award-winning flick, The Social Network. As the story unfolded before me, I realized that I was watching more than just a well-done film with a strong cast. The characters are wonderful insights into the generation to which Facebook pertains, and the plot they find themselves in, though it may deviate from the actual events surrounding Facebook’s creation, sets a stage in which we can explore the rich and painfully veracious emotions present in both the characters in the film and the generation that Facebook was built for. And it also might help you understand why I’ve not touched my own Facebook in months.

There is one defining characteristic of virtually all the core characters of The Social Network – they have low to no self-esteem. They long to be acknowledged, yet all their actions seem only to repel them from those who actually might care about them. Almost every action can be traced down to the fact the character wants to be acknowledged – and when they receive no such attention, they are driven further to find it. This sentiment, I feel, is at the root of social networking. I once heard a Twitter tweet described as writing down a thought on a post card (under 140 characters, mind you) and mailing it out to every one of your acquaintances. Of course, you would have to feel that your idea was most important to merit all this hard work. As the essential publication of an idea that you feel is important enough that all your friends must know about it, a tweet or status update circumvents all that writing and mailing but still has the same effect. As such, Facebook and Twitter facilitates our quest for acknowledgment by allowing us to publish, with great regularity and ease, our every musing to our friend’s home pages. We are rather bummed when no one likes or comments on our status, and there’s a certain warm feeling when more than ten people take the time to click “like” on the picture of you posing in your car before work (I am not guilty of this). Social networking, at its core, is driven by the desire to be known, acknowledged, and thought of by all your “friends” and followers. While we might not be driven to the lengths that the characters in The Social Network were, I fear that there are other side effects.

Far from facilitating human interactions, social networking has instead impaired the social mindsets of many, it seems. Due to the fact that the means of satisfying our desire to be acknowledged are as instant as a text message, we unconsciously seek approval and fulfillment every time we go on Facebook or Twitter and scrounge up something to tell the world. What’s worse is how social networking has begun to eclipse genuine social interactions in the real world. The phrase “Facebook official” is one example – the idea being that a relationship is validated only when it has been announced the couple’s friends via an online medium, rather than a face-to-face confirmation. At a wedding I attended a little while back, the first thing the couple did upon entering their car and being driven to the reception was not the smooching seen in my other favorite movie, It’s a Wonderful Life – no¸ the iPhones came out so that relationship statuses might be adjusted. Few on Facebook have a concept of a “private” life or different social spheres, and oftentimes, in terms of information and pictures that can be seen by everyone, complete strangers are privy to the exact same “you” that your real friends and family are. The phrase, “Facebook me,” is handy, it’s true, when you want someone to find out more about you but don’t have the time – but one can only wonder how genuine the end result is. Instead of a friend, a new acquaintance seems to become just another face on Facebook.

Our desire to be acknowledged is undeniable and in no way a bad thing – we are social beings and we need and thrive on interaction. What does cause me concern is when a medium like Facebook – or Google + and Twitter – offers a way for that desire to be immediately quenched but in no way fully met in the ways actual social interaction can. It seems as though so many individuals that are part of the “Facebook” generation are both as interconnected and lonely as ever – a sad state of affairs for any social network.

*Epilogue: You all might be very pleased to know that it was I who caught the bouquet at the reception of my friend’s wedding. According to tradition, it seems that I am slated to be the next to be married – I suppose I need to get busy…*

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~ by Japan Blog Review on July 25, 2011.

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