Chris thinks differently:
Not that I think Thompson is on anybody's payroll, or that he's extolling the virtues of these social networking sites for undignified reasons. However, what is notably absent from the long New York Times piece is any mention of a downside. In fact, these new digital connectors can be so beneficial, apparently, that this one woman with an unreal amount of "Twitter friends" doesn't make many decisions without first opening up the question to her Twitter community.
I'm about to buy this car. Is it a good one?
I don't know what to eat tonight, Sushi or Pizza. What do you think?
I can't help but wonder that if she's camping and finds a fork in a trail, her head might just explode.
OK, if someone used their Twitter or Facebook to make every decision in their life, sure, there's a downside, but that's not the reality. I don't see anything wrong with consulting Twitter friends on buying a car. Maybe they know information about the car that you don't, or maybe they know a place that you can get a really good deal. This isn't relying on other people to make decisions for you, it's using the tools that you have to make the most informed decision possible. It's quick and easy to send this question to a large group of people and possibly glean important information. Why not?
Now Facebook is an entirely different story. Let's be honest, much of it is totally useless. Bumper Stickers and the late Scrabulous, though extremely fun, are inherently a waste of time. The Mini-Feed shoots up stories on your home page that you probably don't care about: "Brian changed his relationship status from 'In a relationship' to 'It's complicated." Oh no! All these facets of Facebook are just time wasters. I can accept that. But let's look at the positive social networking component of it.
There is a theory that humans can only keep a limited number of social interactions at one time called the Dunbar number. That number is estimated to be around 150. Now look at your Facebook. I'm sure you have a lot more friends than that. That's not saying that you've beaten Dunbar's number by having 600 Facebook friends, but you have kept connections via the internet that you probably wouldn't have kept otherwise. While these relationships are not as strong as the 150-ish real personal relationships you have, they are not totally lost forever and could foster stronger relationships in the future.
Here's an example: you're going to Memphis alone for a conference soon and don't really know what you're going to do there. You happen to be browsing around Facebook and see that one of your old high school buddies is going to school in Memphis. You send him a Facebook message and you meet up for drinks while you're there. Chances are this wouldn't happen in a Facebook-less world. You wouldn't have known that he was going to be there and you wouldn't have known how to get in contact with him.
Facebook doesn't move us away from real, personal relationships to strictly digital ones. It allows us to keep more personal relationships than we can normally. There are the few close friends that you'll call up every now and then to see how they're doing, but if you tried doing that to all of your buddies you'd be on the phone all day. Social networking sites allow you to keep up with your friends more easily.
We like this because it gives us this feeling of "ambient awareness," according to Thompson.
It is, they say, very much like being physically near someone and picking up on his mood through the little things he does — body language, sighs, stray comments — out of the corner of your eye. Facebook is no longer alone in offering this sort of interaction online. In the last year, there has been a boom in tools for “microblogging”: posting frequent tiny updates on what you’re doing.
The day that the internet takes over all of our personal relationships will be a sad day indeed, but I don't think we're anywhere close to that. We're simply using the tools that we have available to us to supplement and improve our personal relationships.
Maybe I'll Twitter my buddies and see what they think...