If you are like one of the 26,715 registered users in the GW community, by the time you have picked up this copy of The Hatchet today, you have likely checked your Facebook account at least once. Even though it is one of the most impersonal forms of communication possible, millions of people still use the site multiple times a day. But the prevalence of Facebook and its practicality are beginning to complicate our real-life social relations, to the point that we’re starting to rely solely on Facebook for those face-to-face social interactions.
The Facebook phenomenon began only three years ago, and its intention seemed like a good one. Back in the day when it was called “The Facebook,” it was a social networking website for Harvard University students that quickly expanded to other colleges and universities. But in the past year or so, Facebook adopted many of the negative and controversial aspects of another popular social networking system, MySpace.
No longer limited to college students, nowadays anyone can have a Facebook. That means you have the ability to “friend” your boyfriend’s mom, your professor, even The Washington Post media columnist Howard Kurtz.
Many companies and workplaces use Facebook to “scope out” potential employees by seeing if their profile content and photos are appropriate. Many Facebook-using students have become especially aware of this trend and avoid tagging pictures of themselves drinking for fear of being terminated from jobs or losing internships and scholarships. To be fair, Facebook’s Web site has options to conceal any information you don’t want to share, but many users don’t know – and don’t make an effort to find out – about these options.
Though there are several flaws in the system, Facebook is so widely used because of its convenience. Facebook allows you to keep in touch with people without exerting that much effort. You can send out virtual invitations to events, parties and student organization events. Facebook is even kind enough to remind you of friends’ birthdays. It has now become the way in which we find out who is single or taken, who is straight or gay, and who is very liberal or just moderate in their political views.
More recently, Facebook has become a “virtual memorial” for students that have passed away. Two weeks ago, The Hatchet reported that Facebook became a way to spread the news and share the memories of deceased friends and classmates. While this medium allows for friends, family members and anyone else to post their thoughts and feelings, it is a very public and casual way to mourn the deceased.
By using Facebook as a virtual space to grieve, face-to-face interaction with the family is avoided. Slowly but surely, it is changing our generation’s approach to major life events, both positive and negative. Will our generation soon begin to fear any face-to-face encounter, knowing that would be so much easier to simply log on to Facebook?
If Facebook didn’t tell you about the birthday of a person you haven’t talked to since seventh grade, would you have known? And if you had, would you have called to say happy birthday? If you didn’t make your birthday public on Facebook, would nearly as many people wish you a happy birthday? It is hard to say exactly where a line can and should be drawn when it comes to our personal relationships and the Internet – will it soon be perfectly acceptable to end a relationship via Facebook?
Another interesting dilemma that Facebook presents is whether your Facebook friends actually want you to know what they posted. All of us have been in a situation where something that you shouldn’t know about comes up in a conversation, but due to your superior Facebook stalking skills, you have known for weeks. At this point, do you admit that you regularly check the person’s profile, or do you play dumb and hope that they decide to tell you then and there, so you can finally discuss that juicy bit of gossip?
The bottom line is, we must do everything we can to hold onto actual friendships and relationships and not let them become just virtual ones. Take a minute to go through and remove everyone from your friends list except people you can converse with for longer than five minutes. Don’t wish someone a happy birthday if you don’t really mean it. Take a risk and call your friends from home to see how they’re doing. And if you’re feeling especially ballsy, find out who your real friends are and delete your Facebook for good. I dare you.
This impersonal socializing (if you can even call it socializing) could be the reason that our generation and generations to come risk developing poor social skills, catapulting awkwardness in social interactions to an all-time high. We need to get back to the tangibility of face-to-face associations. We need to remember that there was, in fact, a world before Facebook.
The writer is a sophomore majoring in journalism.