Saturday, February 12, 2011

Dear Professor: Facebook Is the Digital Equivalent of “Kiss Kiss.” It is Not Human Connection.

Having mothered two teenagers, I read the New York Times article about parental fury aimed at teenagers, with interest. Only when I got to the last paragraph, however, did I find the nugget that prompted (no, compelled) me to write this blog.

To quote: “Amid the debate about whether social networks are depriving us of healthier, non-virtual encounters, a University of Texas study last fall claimed that Facebook was not supplanting such interactions.”

Hmm... So what – in the researcher’s own words -- did the University of Texas reportedly find out? Just this: “Contrary to popular opinion, Facebook is making us more social, [emphasis added] albeit in ways unique to the digital age.”

Sorry, Associate Professor S. Craig Watkins, I don’t even know what that means. Whose “popular opinion”? What “digital age”? Most glaringly, how are you defining “more social”? HELP!

The entire conclusion must be hogwash. It's certainly nonsense unbefitting a Phd-carrying associate professor of radio-TV-film at the University of Texas. I’m not buying what you're selling – and for good reason.

The source of the research is 900 Facebook users who are current college students and recent college graduates. What the heck did we expect these profoundly biased “research participants” to say about their Facebook activity? Of course they agreed they were primarily on FB to be “connected and involved” with their peers and family. What other conceivable reason might be offered?

Talk about asking the inmates what they love about the asylum! Hello?

Can we please define “connected and involved”? Please? Puh-leeeeeze? I mean that is the point, for Pete’s sake.

Look a little closer and you’ll find that this study actually underscores that social media has replaced face-to-face conversations, telephone calls, drop-in visits, even one-to-one email. And that pretty much leaves a lot of college-aged Facebook users with fewer (probably significantly fewer) non-sexual*, in-flesh, touching, seeing, hearing, smelling, and feeling interactions with other human beings.

Keyboard interface is not human interaction. Go there if you must, but let’s not pretend Facebook is human interaction and don’t insist that it has us “connected to and involved” with our friends and family. Au contraire, mon ami. Just like the Housewives of Beverly Hills, Facebook enables us to “kiss kiss” hello and goodbye. I can't say this won't be the new reality. But, for Pete's sake, let's not, surrealistically, pretend a cow's not a cow.

* My inclusion of “non-sexual” interaction here is purposeful, since college-student sexual activity itself is tending to the impersonal, as noted in this study of binge drinking and sex by another University of Texas prof. I suspect that thisdrinking/sex trend reflects the same ineptitude for genuine human interaction that’s reflected in Facebook activity.

p.s. You can download the Facebook study pdf. But don’t expect to learn anything that a mother of a teenager doesn’t already know.

-- scrubbed by Marketing Brillo

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