Saturday, March 29, 2008

Social Networking: Friend or Foe?

I've been on Facebook for about 8 months now. I joined up at the behest of my brother, since he said it was a great way to share pictures, something very important with a brand new baby around! Up until then, I had been reluctant to jump on the social networking bandwagon. It seemed, well, phony. I had heard about friend collecting, the practice to building a huge collection of friends for status, and it made me think the whole social networking movement was just a way to continue the social strife of high school forever. Yuck. But, for the sake of baby pictures, I decided to give it a try.

As a picture sharing site, I loved it! Uploads are quick and easy, you can tag people in your photos, you can add a caption to your photos, and people can comment on them. It isn't as full-service as the photo sharing sites we explored earlier, but it certainly got the job done for my pictures.
A couple of months ago, an item popped up in my news feed: I had been tagged in someone else's photo. Huh? I followed the link, and there I was, dancing the night away at a club in Korea, 6 years ago. There was an option for me to remove the tag, but as someone who doesn't visit my facebook page very often, how long had that picture been there without me knowing it? I just looked a bit silly so I didn't mind the picture. But in our time of ubiquitous cell phone cameras, it would be very easy to snap an inappropriate photo, tag it, and upload it, to someone else's embarrassment or worse. Or what's stopping a cyberbully from mistagging photos with a target's name?

As a social networking site, I also enjoyed it. I found some friends from high school that I had long since lost touch with, and had fun catching up with them. It has also helped my husband find some old friends: for two nomads like us, this kind of site could really go a long way to keeping us in touch with far-flung friends!
After the initial catching-up, those friends from high school are silent images on my facebook page. While now I can get in touch with them whenever I want to, using facebook doesn't make non-social people more social.

Facebook has some fun features, likes sending 'gifts' to your friends (I like to send hatching eggs and Tim Horton's treats), and games to play.
You could play a real game with a real person and have a genuine interaction with them. I also find these activities to be real time suckers. They are often not designed all that well and confusing to navigate, so while I want to save more square feet of rain forest with my Green Patch, eventually I say to myself "this is a waste of time! I have REAL things to do!" But there is always one more button to click, one more thing to check out... and one more advertisement to load on your screen. I have friends on Facebook that, by the updates I see in my news feed, must spend hours on the site, playing games, chatting via the wall posts and messages, and posting on discussion boards.

As you can see, social networking leaves me conflicted. Frankly, I'm a fan of real life. I think it is really important to spend time with the people around you, interacting in genuine ways. I would much rather take my daughter for a toboggan ride than post on someone's wall.
I'm not a teenager, and I've never been much of a social butterfly. Students are using this web2.0 tool to stay connected with each other, just like we used land line phones in the olden days. So what's wrong with that? Well, cyber-bullying, false senses of security/anonymity, wasted time, diminished human contact.

But what about better communication skills? And increased information literacy? And engaged learners? And collaboration?

Social networking is a double-edged sword, a very sharp one.

1 comment:

Val said...

I couldn't agree with you more Jessica. It truly is a double edged sword. I see the value as a socialization tool for students (particularily tweens, teens and 20+). I agree it won't make a social person non-social or vice versa. I'm extremely social and by using facebook I haven't decreased my face to face contact with people.

Like you, I want to discover it further. My favourite part has been daily chats with my sister who lives in Vancouver. We often chat on the phone but now we can update each other at odd hours and not worry about it. We sometimes chat on the phone together while both on facebook looking up highschool friends or discovering applications that might be fun. Definitely a time sucker to be aware of. Great insight.
Also a great opportunity to send updated pictures of your daughter.