There’s a new book on the market by MIT technology and society specialist Sherry Turkle that every college student and millennial needs to read. The book is called Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other. Its title is a sad but perfect description of how students are living across campuses nationwide, and it speaks directly to a problem we need to recognize, address and change.
Turkle’s premise is hard to argue: Technology has become “the architect of our intimacies.” Because of things like smartphones and laptops, we may be free to work and converse with anyone, anywhere, but because of the ways we rely on digital technology for connection, we’re prone to being lonely everywhere, too.
Our task right now is to put technology in its place.
Below, I’ve outlined a few things to keep in mind while using Facebook, and I’ve also offered alternatives to the enticing but detrimental elements of the big blue beast. You may not ‘like’ them, but I think there are better ways to accomplish tasks for which you might think Facebook would be ideal. (Facebook may be the first social media website – or any site – that we log onto when we go online, but sorry Zuckerberg, that doesn’t make it the best.)
1) Don’t use chat—preferably ever, but especially for anything important.
Emoticons are great, but they don’t convey everything facial cues or body language would in real life. We’re able to hide and pretend.
Better alternative: Use Skype.
If you’re not willing to talk with a person face-to-face, why are you typing it out? Google’s video chat is pretty good, too.
2) Share photos with primarily family and real friends.
An old way of bonding was to gather around a photo album to reminisce and tell stories. Consider making a list of your family and close friends and sharing your Facebook photos with just them. It will be more meaningful for you.
Better alternative: Use Path.
Path is a personal network site based on the ideas of evolutionary anthropologist Robin Dunbar. He has a theory on how many social relationships we can actually maintain. It goes in factors of 3 — we may have 5 close friends, while we maintain regular contact with 20. Fifty is the rough outer boundary. Path limits you to 50 friends and is perfect for sharing photos like you would a real-life album.
3) Think before you post a general status update.
Which friends will care? Are you saying it just “to perform,” as Turkle might say? Think through the worthwhile-ness of the comment and whether or not it adds more noise to our information overload.
Better alternative: Use Twitter.
If it’s something you want to say to a wide range of people, you might as well say it on a platform designed for publicly sharing bits of real-time information with whoever wants to listen. You’re susceptible to performance there, too—but there are more pros than cons.
4) Don’t keep hitting refresh for news to come through your news feed.
You’re only going to get news that someone wanted to share and things happening in real time. You don’t always need that, and we’re not made to sit around and wait for something.
Better alternative: Go to another website and browse it, or pick up a newspaper. It’s better for your own knowledge, as well as, you know… humanity.
5) Don’t stalk your friends.
We’re all guilty, but try your hardest. The worst part about Facebook is the information about your friends. I wish that section wasn’t there and that you could only personally interact with them.
Better alternative: Actually talk to them in real life.
A crazy idea, but you’ll likely find out the same information. The upside is that it isn’t one-sided. You’ll both learn about each other in the process, and that’s how a friendship grows.
I don’t want to moralize this, but we’ve got to keep these sort of things in mind or we’re going to fall into a social media black hole. We’re going to keep reaching for deeper connections online and digitally, and sites like Facebook can’t provide that. It’s a good thing, yes, but there can definitely be too much of it. We’ve got to be careful not to go too far.
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