Facebook, Twitter and the rest. They should properly be called what they are: antisocial networks. Antisocial because they are devoid of some of the essential elements that define social life. One of these elements, probably the most important one, is simply being there. Being there entails engagement of all your sensual faculties. The sitting-in-front-of-a-computer equivalent is an imitation and demands so much less of you. It is a travesty by comparison.
To be fully social I think you have to be in the room. You are then taking part in the infinite richness of the moment and having to make an account of yourself spontaneously. The virtual world of online connections is not equivalent to the creativity and skills required to do it live. It diminishes what it means to be social.
You can have people in your virtual network that you would not entertain for a moment in actual life. You can have people you don't know at all for that matter and will never meet. Twitter doesn't even require a correspondence. To believe that you are partaking in the fertile possibilities of connection by doing Facebook is pretentious. And how can anyone can be bothered investing so much time? Perhaps it's the kids who can. For these services are nothing if not juvenile. Only kids have time for the trivia. Kids and adult-kids.
It all confirms the thought that humans aren't the social animals they think they are. The important relationships people have are defined by their exclusivity and not by an openness to contact. When people go out they invariably go in somewhere else and so maintain exclusiveness. Fear and uncertainty are the dominant emotions when it comes to how connections are made. Strangers are mistrusted. Only the tribe is true and even then only after serious vetting.
The social websites allow people to connect without actually having to. The attraction is understandable because the actual is so much harder than the virtual. It is much more risky yet more rewarding. It is a fuller experience and ultimately more real. Maybe the widespread popularity of these networks at least indicates a desire on the part of many to connect but it does not represent the reality of it. Humans are sensual creatures subject to the moment. Their experience is defined by what they feel and it is the senses that deliver feeling. A life lived on Facebook is a form of sensory deprivation.
written 2009 in response to the
flourishing of online social networks