Re-thinking my connectedness

These last couple days have been interesting ones for me.  Not sure why; not sure what prompted it, I mean.  But I have been looking at my online presences and thinking about where I spend my time.

It started yesterday, actually, with a message from Facebook that a friend had written about her upcoming wedding.  I didn’t know she was getting married, so I went on Facebook to check it out  I left her a comment, and then today she left me one.  And I finally say what Facebook could do for me that a lot of other sites can’t.  And I liked what I saw.  So today after I commented to that friend,  we ended up chatting for about 15 minutes.  And it was really nice.  I know there is no real revelation here, nothing all the rest of the world hadn’t figured out before, but it just now finally dawned on me.

This morning, too, I saw Stephen’s link to a post by Larry Sanger, Are you disillusioned with Web 2.0? It was an interesting post.  Sanger starts out saying:

Perhaps it will make me even more of a Web 2.0 apostate to say so, but FaceBook, Twitter, Digg, many blogs, and many online forums are becoming increasingly obnoxious to me.

Interesting, I thought, since I am just barely starting to really use Facebook.  Why would he find it obnoxious?

He discusses three reasons: Facelessness, GroupThink, and the fact that it is a waste of time.

It was the Facelessness argument that I thought most about.  Sanger says:

Now they seem woefully impoverished. The stunning diversity of humanity online does not make up for the annoying effects of anonymity and disembodiment — or in one word, facelessness.

It so happens that I “know” fairly well on the order of dozens of people, people each of whom I have, at one time or another, spent many hours conversing and/or working. I’ve met some of these people in real life (IRL), but I would not recognize most of them if I were to pass them on the street. And, when you get down to it, I don’t really know much about these people. We only know about our shared interests — Citizendium, Wikipedia, fiddle music, or what have you.

To be honest, this makes me sad.

It began to make sense to me — both Sanger’s reasons for not liking these tools anymore and my sudden liking for them.  In the past, my attempts to use Facebook, Twitter, the 43 sites, and a lot of other Web 2.0 staples was artificial.  It was done because someone told me I should use these great tools.  But I didn’t feel a need to connect with people I didn’t know.  I didn’t even want to connect with people I “knew” in cyberspace.  It is only now when I am starting to connect on Facebook with people I know in real life that I find meaning in using the tools.  And I will admit, I am not so interested in keeping up with the Facebook “friends”  I only know online.  It is the real flesh-and-blood people I want to know about.   And they are really the only people who truly want to know what I am doing and thinking, too, I would imagine.

I wonder if I am not reaching the limits of my ability to stay connected.  I have my own blogs, and I handle two other bogs for organizations I belong to.  Is that why I like Facebook: because it puts the people I care about all together in one place?  I know that makes it appealing.  Less work.  Like an RSS feed for my life.

But Facebook doesn’t eliminate my desire to blog.  It doesn’t mean I don’t want to reach out to others to discuss ideas.  So I think I will be doing this for a long time, too.  At least I hope so.

My feelings about all the tools that are out there, though, come closer to what Sanger is talking about here:

The first time we see a shiny new Internet toy, we are all oohs and aahs. But, OK…isn’t it time to stop it with the “Which Star Trek character are you?” quizzes on Facebook?

While I am not opposed to an occasional quiz, I am getting tired of trying to keep up with all the new tools.  There are some things I am just not going to get involved with.  (That isn’t a new idea, as anyone reading here will know.)  I honestly don’t see myself ever getting into Twitter, for example.  More than that, though, I am not interested in being friends with everyone in the world, with having a respectable Technorati rating, or any of the other measures of authority or connectedness we use online.

More than ever before, I just want to use the tools that make sense to met do the things that are important to me.


4 thoughts on “Re-thinking my connectedness

  1. We pick the tools which meet our needs. Larry has obviously chosen the wrong ones. I think I’ve chosen better, as have you. I don’t use Facebook at all – yes, I have a profile and a few friends – but it has never engaged me. Twitter, on the other hand, has become an indispensible network. And my closest friends gather on an old Yahoo Group, which works just fine for us (functioning quite like a long-winded Twitter).

    But my story from the past week on Twitter is this – making it seem quite “un-faceless,” not very “groupthink” and worth the effort. I was struggling to sleep and picked up my Blackberry around 1230 am. A Twitter-friend, someone I’ve met because we share a research field, Tweeted from Brooklyn, “I can’t find a place to park in Park Slope.” “This time of night,” I sent back from my bed on the shores of Lake Michigan, “you need to look alongside the park.” Five minutes later his TwitPic showed his parkside parking spot.

    We’ve gone from trading quick thoughts, to trading articles, to laughing with each other, to functioning as friends do, though he’s in Virginia and I’m in Michigan, and without Twitter, we’d never known each other at all.

    It’s just part of how humans turn tools into services which help sustain us.

  2. Being ambivalent about technology myself, I pose the following questions:

    “Like an RSS feed for my life.”

    Do you really need an RSS feed for your life? Would this honestly represent a reduction, or an expansion of your life?

    Granted, modern technology makes it easier to maintain the kind of connections that in times past had to be maintained via the post office and mutual friends, but is someone so far removed from your existence that you didn’t even know she was getting married truly in your real life anymore?

    What is our “real life,” anyway? How far disconnected from our physical environment can it get before it becomes a fantasy, an hallucination?

  3. Nancy, I appreciated the thoughtful response. My disillusionment with the social Internet really doesn’t have to do with a dislike of specific tools. Like you, I honestly like what the tools I use do for me — if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be using them. What has me disillusioned is the opportunity cost the tools involve, and what I call the “pale shadow” of real human interaction that is Internet socialization. And now that so many people have moved so much of their free (social) time online, the actual quantity of social opportunities offline seems to be dwindling!

    Ira, I wasn’t talking about you, in particular, or the possibility of using the Internet in a better way. If I didn’t think it was possible to use it in a different and better way, I wouldn’t have made my career on the Internet. The on-balance wonderfulness of the Internet doesn’t mean that all criticisms of the medium are misplaced.

    All I wanted to accomplish with my blog post, anyway, is to think about the “disembodying” effects on our social relationships when so many people are spending so much time online. Surely that is a worthwhile topic.

    1. Thank you both for your original post and for your comment. I appreciate the chance to think about this subject. I think I understood where you were coming from, but I had to process it in relation to my own life experience. It is a very worthwhile thing to think about.

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