Op-Ed

Social media can’t replace personal contact

TNS

I recently took inventory of how I communicate with friends and others and I realized that Facebook has surpassed email and phone conversations. The powerful impact Facebook has had on my life struck me. This popular application has reshaped my social and professional realities, and I’m pretty confident that the same holds true for every other user in Miami.

While there seems to be a new social app on the market every week, the phenomenon of Facebook remains wildly popular. A recent Pew Research Study indicated that 72 percent of adult Internet users in this country are currently on Facebook. By comparison, the same study revealed that only 23 percent of the American Internet users are on Twitter.

Because I spend so much of my time on my computer or smartphone, I am constantly checking in on my Facebook feed — when I get up in the morning, between sets at the gym and, yes, even when I’m stuck in traffic. It has gone from a guilty pleasure to an addiction.

Like most admitted Facebook “overusers,” I have had wonderful experiences on the site. I have contacted people I would have otherwise never been able to through conventional channels, I have rekindled friendships, freely expressed and read polemical points of view, shared pictures and sentiments of moments lived, discovered the best croqueta in Miami, shamelessly promoted events, polled friends on their favorite TV sitcoms, as well as experienced hook-ups and break-ups.

I have also witnessed Facebook’s drawbacks. Facebook expedites the normal “getting to know you” process in an unsettling way. When you primarily communicate with someone via Facebook, there is a level of faux familiarity. The site is masterfully designed to create an illusion of intimacy. Tone, mood and intent are hard to gauge in abbreviated, “in box” messages. There is really is no set standard for what is acceptable on Facebook, but the perceived safety of hiding behind computer keys clearly emboldens people — myself included. I know I have declared things both publicly and privately on Facebook that I probably would not have been so brazen about in conversation.

Then there’s the issue of visibility. Facebook is the landing strip of all wayward selfies. Every picture you post has an unforeseen implication. Simply put, a picture has different meanings to different people, depending on the prism through which they are looking — an employer, an ex-girlfriend, your next-door neighbor.

Whenever I post a picture, I ask myself several times over if I’ll be OK with the image permanently lingering in the Internet sphere. After several mishaps, where things were misinterpreted, I have now simplified my litmus test on posting to one basic question: “Will I be OK with my 7-year-old seeing the post, now and forever?”

Posts on your Facebook wall amount to a personal history — a history that can and will be judged. I have been on the receiving end of several false assumptions prompted by Facebook detective work. However, I, too, have been guilty of doing background checks via Facebook and arriving at many false conclusions.

This sudden desire to become a Law & Order detective commonly rears its ugly head when you begin to date someone. And Facebook is seemingly the perfect platform to run your unofficial background investigation. Suddenly I wasn’t only sifting through the photo albums of the person I was dating, I was also conducting ancillary fact-finding forays into her friends’ picture bins.

After several long nights of these fruitless Facebook expeditions, I had far more questions than when I started my query, not to mention that I had drawn all the wrong conclusions. In the end, it could have all been cleared up with a simple 10-minute conversation.

My lesson learned was that the one thing Facebook and social media as a whole cannot and should not replace is human contact.

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