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The Social Interaction Of Facebook

2013-02-19


In my opinion, the greatest advancement in the information and communications technology industry in the last 10 years is the development of social networking, most notably the ever-expanding cyber community known as Facebook. Though some may consider it a frivolous past-time, Facebook is a powerful technological advancement that has completely changed the communications landscape for my generation in three ways. First, it has changed how we interact socially. Meeting face-to-face has a whole new meaning. Secondly, it has expanded our view of community beyond our borders. Finally, it has broadened the way we interpret news events in distant places. We no longer rely on standard nightly news media feeds or posts on dot-com news sites when we can get instant, first-hand accounts from people we know. Facebook is so pervasive that the word itself has morphed beyond a simple proper noun for a widespread technological innovation and entered the common lexicon as a verb. People who had never heard of Facebook five years ago commonly understand today what it means to “facebook” someone else.

For a long time, we have had the ability to interact socially using voice, text, email and uploading and sharing photos and other files as attachments to email messages. What makes the on-going development of Facebook so revolutionary is the way that it has brought together the convenience and power of telephony, broadcast media and all types of audio and video processing and transmission. Facebook has given us the ability to do all these things, collectively, in the instantaneous point-and-click of a mouse. For example, instead of using the phone to call friends to share news about the latest YouTube video, the two or ten of us can watch it together on Facebook and use the online chat feature to share our reactions while watching. Classic board games have moved to Facebook as applications. We can play against the computer or against our friends. It's fast. It's easy. It's free; and no one has to leave home.

If we do need to leave home, Facebook is portable! I can take the power of Facebook with me on the road with a mobile phone or laptop and stay connected with family and friends in a way I never could without this technology. On a recent college road trip to the Virginia highlands, I was able to share each part of the visit with my friends, complete with photos and running commentary. There was no need to wait and try to remember all the details later. I was able to share them as they happened. This ease of sharing your world with others, in real time, has made the world much smaller. I believe it also has made it easier for us to get to know one another across cultures, improving the level of understanding between people groups.

The social interaction around homework has even changed because of Facebook. If I forget to write down a homework assignment and don't happen to have the phone number of someone in that class, I can just get Facebook, chat them, inbox them or write on their wall to find out. I've even used Facebook's Note feature to create a quick survey for AP Biology class. I posted a Note with the information for my project, tagged a few dozen friends and encouraged them to comment in response to the survey. Using the data from my Facebook Note I was able to finish my project without having to hunt people down and question them face-to-face. It took less than 6 hours for me to post the Note, get the feedback and complete the project.

Facebook genuinely has made the world a global community. I went on a mission trip to England and Scotland two summers ago and formed many new relationships with people my age. In the pre-Facebook world, I probably could have maintained the immediacy of these relationships through email and texting. But Facebook has made possible a whole new level of ease and familiarity. I can Facebook my friends across the world as easily as I can chat with friends who live next door. We can post video of a fresh snowfall and share it immediately. When I want to see a Scottish friend's new haircut, I only need to click on her latest photos. Before Facebook I wouldn't have been able hear the voices of my international friends and, if I could, it would be on a very short phone call. International calls can be pricey, but Facebook chat is free. We can video chat from each of our computers for hours, using our Skype accounts.

The vast Facebook community – half a billion people and counting – has become a powerful force with the ability to affect social change in the wider world community. Just this week, young people in Tunisia, where there are no civil rights and almost no free speech, used Facebook and other social networking to organize protests against a repressive government that ultimately forced the country's president from power! More than half the Tunisian population is young, and one in10 young people have a Facebook account. The social networking site is being called a form of “civil resistance” because of its role in that country's uprising.

On Facebook, we can share breaking news across continents in real time and gain insight about these events from eyewitnesses rather than simply rely on second-hand media reports. When the British Parliament decided to increase college tuition rates in the United Kingdom, students responded by filling the streets and rioting. Instead of having to depend on media reports for an understanding of how this affected people my own age in that country, I received a first-hand account from a Facebook friend, a college student in Newcastle, England I met while on the mission trip two summers ago. He already was struggling to pay his tuition and shared with the Facebook community his own reaction to the tuition increase along with that of friends who were themselves actively protesting the change. His Facebook status updates were a real-life encounter with an on-going news event, which made this tuition change across the Atlantic very personal for those of us who know him.

Facebook is redefining how my generation interacts socially, giving new meaning to the phrase face-to-face. It has made the world our community, enabling us to communicate and share all kinds of information freely across continents without interpreters. Facebook can be a force for good, sometimes reconnecting people who sometimes were separated for decades: brothers and sisters who were separated by adoption, fathers and daughters torn apart by war, missing children snatched away by an angry parent. The Facebook community also has the power to unleash social change, as it did in Tunisia. No other technology puts so many people in touch at the touch of a mouse. Nobody had heard of it when I was born. Today, it is one of the fastest growing methods of communication. Businesses, movie stars, singers, and just ordinary people frequent it daily, posting, sharing, tagging and connecting. Facebook has irreversibly impacted the way we deal with each other and, as it continues to change, our interactions will continue to change. We get to watch the future develop before our eyes and play an active part in it.