The average facebook user in Australia spends five hours per month on the site (according to comScore). That’s five hours each month where you’ve moved your social life to interactions behind a screen.
The kind of people who do this are more likely to join groups, and get involved in group activities offline too (see this flowtown infographic), so in general we’re talking about people who were already spending time socialising in other ways.
And of course, it’s not just Australia.
If you’ve moved some part of your social life onto facebook (or some other social networking site), then you have changed the way that you communicate. But have you thought about what you’ve changed, and whether you’re happy with those changes?
There are two kinds of converations that you can have on facebook: the kind of conversation that you might have over email, where you send someone a private message, and a new kind of conversation – the wall post.
Let’s leave to one side the idea that you’re moving some of your conversations to an email-style. Let’s ignore the privacy concerns with storing personal information, including the details of your “social graph” (the people you know, and the people they know), with a privately-held company that has a bad track record for privacy. Let’s ignore the cyberbullying risks. Let’s ignore the problems of employers (and potential employers) knowing all aspects of your personal life.
Never mind the concerns raised by this slate article (thanks Nicole for the link) that the way that you present your life on facebook is skewed – you have a greater tendency to present an idealised life in your choice of photos and events you share. If you’re looking for your friends to click “Like”, then you’re going to frame even your bad news in a way that people can click “Like”.
Let’s just concentrate on the idea of the wall post and wall comment.
In the wall post, you write a message for someone that can be seen by everyone you know, in a public space that can be seen by anyone they know. If you have any sense of how to respect the privacy of other people, the kind of information you share in this context will be different to what you might share in an email, a phonecall, or a private conversation.
So the kind of information you’re sharing is less personal, and less detailed than it might be if you were using some other method to get in touch.
In terms of the breadth of people you contact in your limited time on facebook, you will tend to connect with the people who appear on your own news feed, thinking that it’s been a while since you’ve been in touch. So you stretch yourself more broadly than you might if you didn’t have the software helping you.
With only so much time, and much of the conversation happening in public, isn’t it inevitable that you’ll end up with more conversations, of a lesser quality, with a wider variety of people than you used to?
This was the question that I put to my own facebook friends via the wall, and – while I was disappointed not to have universal agreement – it was good to be able to think more broadly about this. (Let me know if you’d like your ideas credited here: for now, I’ll keep them anonymous in this forum)
There are benefits to facebook:
- connecting with people from your past, especially when you’ve moved countries
- sharing photos and videos with friends and family
- providing opportunities for connection with people where a deep relationship exists already
- can enhance the social skills of someone who has trouble socialising in person.
- someone who is physically isolated from their friends can get some insights into what’s happening in the their lives
- sometimes, real friendships can develop (especially those founded around some shared interest)
- disagreements that were founded on tone-of-voice issues can get worse much more quickly, and can easily end in being de-friended
- deep friendships are harder to build up online
- the small-talk that goes with real-life conversation is bypassed: instead of asking how someone is going, anything that’s been posted on your wall is assumed.
- it’s much harder to have a spiritual conversation, especially with someone who doesn’t share your belief system
What do you think? Is it fair to say that facebook is making us head towards less substantial conversations? Does that matter?