Recently read an article in the New Yorker about Jaron Lanier and his views in Facebook. According to the article’s author, Lanier’s book “You are not a gadget” provides a critique of “social-networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, which he has described as dehumanizing and designed to encourage shallow interactions”. I strongly agree, and use this as further evidence to back up my anti-Facebook position. Unfortunately I’m not as clever or articulate as Lanier, so in my recent rant I wasn’t able to come up with such compelling arguments against the use of social networking. However, after reading that article, I was inspired to delete my Google+ account, although I still have yet to read Lanier’s actual book.
A Slate.com article about Lanier reminds readers that “we can easily forget that Facebook needs to build a profit with our friendships”.
I think is essentially my issue with sites like Facebook and Twitter, although I didn’t express myself as well as Lanier does. These sites do not encourage meaningful interactions. They want to make money from our relationships and our communication, but with less transparency than a telephone company or post office.
Facebook allows you to “network” with other “humans”, but really, how much time and effort do these people put into their social interactions with you via Twitter or Facebook? How long does it take to click on a “Like” button? And what extraneous information are we exposed to when we communicate with each other using Facebook? The situation is convoluted even more by that fact that many advertisements are designed to intentionally mislead users. I often wonder whether or not people are even able to distinguish between advertisements and legitimate information on the internet. It’s certainly not always easy.
I agree that the types of interactions upon which Facebook and Twitter are built are shallow and dehumanizing, and I would even argue that this has begun to influence the way people process information. It’s true for even myself, a non-Tweeting non-Facebook user. I am compelled to interact with information as efficiently as possible; trying to glean as much useful information as possible with minimal effort. Perhaps this is just because “information explosion”, and the amounts of information we are expected to interact with on a daily basis. The only way to cope is to learn how to process information efficiently, or you end up feeling overwhelmed and bewildered. Which is why I think it’s so important to put effort into maintaining relationships and genuine communication; that’s what makes us human.
Which leads to another set of existential questions… does information exist independently of humans? Or must it be interacted with in order for it to be information? If a tree falls in the forest, and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?