Tuesday, March 31, 2009


There's an old song from a 70s musical called "A Chorus Line". In the song, the singer laments "Who am I anyway? Am I my resume?"

I have a few words to say about Twitter and Facebook.

There are a variety of reasons why I don't like them, some more global than others.

It concerns me that we are all being reduced to "profiles" and communication is being reduced to 140 characters. It's depersonalizing. It is also desensitizing. When any of us become reduced to such soundbytes (or textbytes, as the case may be), communication degrades. Real communication requires time and effort. Do you really think anyone cares what color your couch is or what you are cooking for dinner?

Friendships take effort. Friendships take authenticity. They take.. excuse the expression... emotional investment. They take time. The kind of caring we all long for isn't something that can be automated or made convenient.

We minimalize ourselves into short paragraphs and call that "connecting". We reduce ourselves to snippets, skill sets and a litany of interests, even though we are all complex individuals with different qualities and interests at different times.

We no longer discriminate or discern. With Twitter, Facebook and even Blogger, we fill up our RSS feeds with too many things and end up communicating substantially with no one. I once read someone's site and he or she had over 600 subscriptions in Google Reader. (I have 55.) There is no way anyone can give adequate time to 600 feeds. It's tough enough with 55! I've been on Blogger for almost 2.5 years and I have had substantial connections with three people. That's because all four of us made the commitment of time, effort and communication.

All this hyper-linked content has created mass Attention Deficit Disorder. We're always looking for the next thing, the next technological "fix" that will satisfy an almost carnivorous desire for one more tittilating snippet of information. It's technological channel-surfing. Like call-waiting, we can always click off and see if there's something or someone more interesting somewhere else.

We don't write letters anymore. Does anyone remember what it's like to sit down at the table with a pen and paper, thinking about the things we want to tell our correspondent? Since letters are less frequent, we have to think about things over a longer span of time and respond more meaningfully.

Now we have email. We get on someone's "forward" list and get cut-and-paste inspirational stories or bouncing icons with quippy sayings. We get jokes. How is it "keeping in touch" to pass along impersonal information? It's more like one of those dreaded round-robin Christmas letters.

We no longer have to remember our friends' birthdays because we get an automated message to remind us. We get on-line and pick out some bouncing monkey or bouncing bunny, slip in a limp "happy birthday" and send it off. We've met our obligation. Eh?

We don't use the phone anymore. Sometimes I hunger for inflection, for tone of voice, for the sound of someone's laughter.

Instead, we get snippets on SMS, Twitter and Facebook. We get the title of the book someone is reading - or what song they have on at the moment. We know every time someone goes to Safeway. We know every time someone went out somewhere. We know the color of his or her couch. It is facile, unoriginal and consumptive.

This kind of cyber-crowding is really no different than being in an overly-crowded room. We scratch the surface and move on. We get bumped and jostled, facebooked and twittered. We want to breathe fresh air.



heartinsanfrancisco said...

Well said! I thought I was the only person in the Western world who hated Face Book. (I've had no experience with Twitter, but would doubtless feel the same about it.)

These engines are the fast food of communication. They are not nourishing or even very tasty, but they are quick. Are they healthy? No.

Humans need more substantive communication than knowing that someone went to a bar or bought a new whatever.

I have noticed a thinning of the herds in Blogdom since Face Book, Twitter and MySpace took over the world, and I'm sure it's because they are so much easier to navigate, racing through and checking off as many people as possible. And I have to wonder, what's the point?

No thank you.

Anonymous said...

I like facebook only for getting me in contact with old friends. But then I prefer to move into emailing. And I love nice long emails - for me, it's a way pf sending a letter without the carpal tunnel-induced illegibility. All the silly extras on facebook, I refuse to do.

Border Explorer said...

Powerful and impassioned writing.

Carol said...

I agree completely. Email and blogging are as far as I go with cyber relationships.

On a related note, in the March 2009 Sun magazine, there was an interview with Nicholas Carr titled Computing the Cost - On How the Internet is Rewiring Our Brains.

One quote from the article: "As we increasingly connect with the world through computer screens, we're removing ourselves from direct sensory contact with nature. In other words, we're learning to substitute symbols of reality for reality itself."

Like you, I hunger for inflection, tone of voice and the sound of someone's laughter. And, I might add, I also want to see the beauty in their eyes and feel the warmth of their hug.

There ain't nothing like the real thing.

Mauigirl said...

I agree too much time on Facebook is a waste, especially if you get caught up in the quizzes and the silly gifts, etc. Then it becomes the equivalent of eating junk food; a little is tasty but after awhile you feel sick and guilty. I am amazed, though, at the way you can get in touch with people from the past - I'm in touch with a friend I hadn't seen since I was 10 years old and hadn't heard from in over 40 years - and she's trying to make my grandmother's cookies that she and I both remember from when we were kids! I think that's cool.

But overall you are definitely right and it is getting out of hand. I do not Twitter, I don't see the point. And at least blogs make you think - as this one did. Great post.

Anonymous said...

Technology has its uses. Without it, I would never have met you, for example.

The problem is that everything Americans do, we over do.

Blog Antagonist said...

Oh Thank You. I was beginning to think I was the only hopelessly antiquated human being who refuses to jump on yet another social networking bandwagon. I agree with every single thing you said.

I do Facebook, but my friends list has 30 people on it. And they are actually my friends. Most of them, I even know in real life. Some people have like 300 friends! How in the world can you keep up with 300 friends? How can you relate in a meaningful, substantial way with any of them?

Twitter I just refuse to be sucked into. I have a MyBlogLog account, which is a sort of feed reader. But I stopped using it when it started posting Tweets. If I wanted to see Tweets, I would join Twitter.

Have you seen this video?


Anvilcloud said...

This is a really thoughtful post that I quite enjoyed reading. I pretty well agree with you. What can I say? It happens. :)

Rebecca said...

Thoughtful and provocative as always, Chani. I agree (and I facebook). For me, it has been about connecting with family members I wouldn't connect with otherwise...nieces and nephews who are part of the internet-connected generation. That's how they connect and now they communicate with me, too. It's a mixed bag.

Anonymous said...

I have not learnt to love Facebook. I am on it - but if anyone said "drop Facebook" I could do it at the drop of the hat. I only stick with it because I hate to give up. It gives me nothing at all. I have used it to share photos whilst I have been in Aus and that is all. But I actually think it is MY shortcoming that I have got nothing out of it - not its shortcoming. Facebook is like high school and I never liked that either.

I love Twitter. Adore it. For me it works perfectly. I work from home. For me Twitter gives me the sort of contact I would have in an office but with the added benefit that I can switch it off whenever I want. I can say "just going for a coffee" and then disappear for hours.

Maybe you don't need these things but for others they work. We do not all like or need the same interaction from others. I hate close physical interaction, feeling swamped by people. Having online things let me actually be more socially interactive. If it were a choice between coffee mornings and being alone I would choose alone - always even before the internet. But Twitter is just enough - doesn't swamp me out.

I read more, talk more, write more because of the internet. It has helped me to emerge from what was an almost hermit like state.

slouching mom said...

May I play devil's advocate?

I wonder whether it has to be an either/or question.

I use FB to send pictures and little snippets to faraway family and friends. I also send them letters (real, honest-to-god letters! with stamps!) and e-mails. FB hasn't replaced those things for me -- it's only given me yet another avenue for communication.

Also, my brother and I have always loved playing Scrabble. FB allows us to do that, even though we live four hours from each other and would not otherwise get a chance to play.

Anonymous said...

I agree with some of what you said. I think that it does damage the concept of relationship in many ways, and serves a narcissistic belief that what we say is somehow necessarily important.

But it serves good purposes as well. Blogging and networking of any kind are done for myriads of reasons. Not everyone is doing so as a means of connecting with others in the sense of forming groups of new friends.

Some people have very different reasons such as to work through personal issues that are helped by writing, others think they have special abilities they wish to share, others want to make extra money, some which to share their political and other opinions about the world.

I agree that someone who is blogging and reading blogs with solely for bonding with others can't manage too many. But those whose blogs are designed to give news and commentary must respond to a lot of blogs in their fields of interest in order to give good commentary. It just depends what you are there for.

I also find that blogging especially tunes me into the fact that very ordinary people like myself have so extraordinary talents, and I appreciate humanity at large a good deal more as a consequence.

I recently started twittering, not for giving updates on my rather dull life so much but to alert people of articles and posts that I came across during the day, that don't generate enough ideas to run a full post on, but still might be of interest.

Like most things, there is no necessarily answer to the question posed, but good and bad uses of the technological offerings. And in the end, that is subjective too. What is a waste to one is a gift to another. (Oddly I wrote pretty much on this subject today in my blog. That is seredipity I would say!)

Your posts remain always provacative Chani, Blessings.

meno said...

I have yet to open either a facebook or a twitter account. Like you, i truly fail to see the reason for it, other than it being just another time suck.

Maithri said...

Beautifully said!

niobe said...

I realize that there are plenty of people who really seem to get a lot out of Facebook. But I also realize that I'm not one of them.

Anonymous said...

Ooooh, but now I know that you might have a gorgeous black cat! I have a soft spot for black cats. I do agree in a lot of ways but have found my blog relationships kind of satisfying since it's mainly about reading and being read, not all of that small talk from facebook and twitter! I don't even like small talk in person!

Woman in a Window said...

I don't get it either, Chani, but an awful lot of people seem to. To me it's strange and without meaning. But like Slouching Mom said, perhaps if you use it well it's not inherantly bad. But for me, it's without point.

Angela said...

Well thank you for putting into such articulate words what I couldn't quite figure out for myself! I deactivated my facebook account, which I had never been really comfortable with and only used for a few weeks, yesterday. It was a waste of time and energy - a real sucking vortex of the trite and trivial. Besides, your personal information can be threatened at a site like that. Anybody heard of identity theft? Hello. The conflucker (I misspelled that, but I like it!) worm and all that.

Laurie said...

I'm moving more into the face-to-face communication mode every day. I feel much more in touch with myself when I'm actually able to "touch" with others.

Anonymous said...

i think it is an even bigger issue than just those sites. look at the toys we design that flash and beep just to give the kids adhd. we are preparing them for a world where thinking is unnecessary.

Janet said...

I do worry that all of this social networking is making people increasingly isolated.

That said, I am at risk because I do blog. However, I do it with much less frequency then I once did as I just can't justify the time it takes.

I joined facebook when my sister was in Dubai for a year and live talking was expensive and difficult to coordinate with the time difference. Some old friends then found me and it was nice connecting with them but, again, I am a low-frequency user.

I also have a Twitter account but my updates are protected. I have no interest in having 1,000 followers or following hundreds of people whom I don't know. The people I do follow are people whose blogs I read and who I feel a kinship with. I enjoy some of the impromptu discussions we share which wouldn't happen if I weren't on Twitter. Still, being there means I'm not elsewhere connecting with the flesh and blood people in my life. You have given me something to think about.

painted maypole said...

oy. i agree with much of this, yet I must confess I enjoy facebook, although I do recognize it as artificial and surface correspondence. but i have found that it has led to some deeper discussions with people. I think of it sort of like the small talk you make when you run into someone at a store... sometimes that small talk leads to a real conversation, or maybe next time you see them you'll ask ... "hey, what was that you said about _________ - tell me more about that"

even still... I have been whittling down my reader as well... thinking of the blogosphere as a community and trying to make some choices about who I want to connect with in this community.

Olivia said...

Hi, Chani,

This was a great post, as usual provocative and interesting.

I am going to be contrarian, however. I think that Twitter and Facebook definitely need to be managed and are not for everyone. However, I find that both Facebook and Twitter have helped me personally to move out much more socially.

First of all, they have helped me to see so much better how we all are connected. I feel much more one with people in general and across the globe too.

I have formed friendships, just like through blogging, that sometimes translate into something more real than virtual. Sometimes the intimacy can be more real than what I have experienced in my regular life; this may say more about my regular life, though, as being lacking.

I have gotten back in touch with people I haven't seen in years. A connection that at some level I feel, even if it's relatively tenuous. It's sort of like blogging in this, whereby you connect with people's worlds...at least for me it is.

As for Twitter, I am so alone most of the time that I like being able to stay in touch with people whose input I find interesting. It might be mundane, too; I find that interesting (again, that might say more about me and my alone life).

I am even a big fan of the 140 characters. I love words and although I'm not good at twittering, I love reading the people who are and can say so much with so little. It reminds me of poetry, in a way! Really. I'm a Twitter fan :)

I figured you'd like a strong opposing view.

Much love,