If social media had been first…

I'm sure someone else has done this before and better, but let's imagine a parallel universe where social media had come before face to face socialisation. Our writer, Richard Liitleinsight for the Maily Blog takes up the story…

The sad truth about 'f2f'

I've never tried face to face (or f2f as it's known by the sad geeks who participate in it), but I know I don't need to in order to understand that it is a facile, shallow form of interaction compared with the rich dialogue we have built up over centuries in social media.

F2F gatherings often take place in specially designed physical spaces. The spaces cannot be altered, people here think moving a chair around is rearranging. Gone is the rich possibility of creating virtual worlds, of being a flying cow or a twelve foot purple cat in a world with 1/3 earth's gravity. No, here people sit around at tables and inanely flip cardboard 'beer mats' against a backdrop of red flock wallpaper.

But if the environment itself were not depressing enough, then the level of interaction is enough to have any right thinking citizen weeping. F2Fers talk about football, what they had for dinner and that bloke in the office, over and over again. Gone is the rich debate, the informed discussion – here there is no recourse to wikipedia, instead interlocutors call upon a mythical 'bloke in the pub told me' as their sole source of fact.

Even more worrying we seem to be abandoning our cultural history of considered debate. In a F2F setting there is no time for reflection, the imperative is always upon the immediate. the sound-bite, as if the motto were 'say anything rather than be silent'. I don't know about you, but I was always brought up to believe that taking your time to reflect, research and compose your response was the best way to proceed.

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Experts warn that f2fing could damage our communication skills (photo http://www.flickr.com/photos/74321115@N00/4219119825/)

Another disturbing factor is the drastic pruning of social relationships. Having developed skills at maintaining a complex set of relationships that are not limited by geography, time or demographics, the F2Fers now find themselves only able to be 'friends' (they have misappropriated the Facebook term) with people they can meet at a set time in a set location. Psychologists believe that this contraction to a restricted set, what is being termed the Dunbar number, will severely limit the capacity for social growth and innovation.

When we think about the great bloggers of the past, such as Montaigne, we can ask where are the great bloggers amongst the F2F set? They are almost entirely consumed with 'chatting' with people in cafes and bars. Would Montaigne have written so many thoughtful blog posts if he had spent all his time sipping lattes? I think the answer is no.

But all this might be dismissed as the ravings of an old misery, which is fine, but the implications could be far more sinister. No less a scientific dignitary than Baroness Brownhouse has recently decried the rise in F2F popularity, stating that 'it is a fact that less online interaction will rewire these kids brains resulting in them being less capable of processing complex information. By tweeting to 2 or 3 people I know that restricting your social field to those you can meet on a real time basis reduces an individual's neurological capacity for reflection, empathy and social understanding. Fact. Fact. Fact.'

Lastly, this F2F phenomena has seen a rise in a new, voodoo form of economics and publishing, where instead of gathering the inputs from everyone and allowing the best to rise to the surface, contributions are 'filtered'. This has led to paper based productions, labelled 'newspapers' being passed around for money. The so called writers (termed 'journalists') of these, don't contribute their ideas or opinions based on beliefs or knowledge, but rather are led by the business motivations of the newspaper owner. In one story I heard, a sinister underground figure known only as 'Murderok' owned several 'newspapers' and made the journalists write what he wanted. And yet the F2Fers proclaim this as a form of freedom because it allows for journalistic privilege! What happened to the wisdom of the crowds?!

So, while new blog darlings rush to embrace the F2F rebellion and abandon their twitter accounts for Starbucks loyalty cards, and reject considered thought in favour of inane blatherings, I'll stick to what has worked fine for the past few hundred years. As Shakespeare posted, 'I blog, therefore I am.'

11 Comments

  1. I enjoyed reading this and while agreeing with some of your points, I see that the ‘idle chit-chat factor’ exists just as prevalently in online socialisation as in F2F. In fact, it is the very thing that results in me hardly accessing Facebook nowadays and will probably happen on Twitter eventually.

  2. Hi Largerama – oh, I know that, I was just parodying the journalists who accuse social networks of being trivial, as if lots of normal conversation wasn’t trivial also. In truth of course we find as much depth/triviality in both spaces, but the criticism of social media is often made by comparison to a mythologised version of face to face interaction.

  3. Very good đŸ™‚
    That said, one minor point – the Dunbar number isn’t limited to physical interactions. It’s a measure of neocortex size plotted against social group size. Whilst Dunbar only measures non-human primates (which are clearly barred from online interactions) it’s still a mental figure, not a physical one – so it’s not unreasonable to say that it extends to online interactions as well.

  4. @John – yes I know, and there’s been a bit about the Dunbar number applying in Facebook still, but I’m not so sure. I think we’re seeing new forms of relationships that can be maintained because we can share with many at once. My little joke here was that after centuries of online interaction, the Dunbar number might seem like a restriction. Ok, it is a _very_ little joke đŸ˜‰

  5. Hmm, not sure if the mis-attribution to Shakespeare rather than Descartes was deliberate, but couldn’t help but point out this minor error:-) And I remind you that the original Latin was of course ‘Dubito ergo cogito blogo sum’.

  6. @David – yes, I was waiting for someone to spot it. It was intentional – in my parody I was trying to get at the indignant journalist who reveals themself to be ignorant. But it was a bit of a rubbish way of doing it on reflection. Love the latin!

  7. Thanks Gideon – I’d be interested to see/hear what your students make of it. As for taking it further, how about asking your students to develop it? Could be fun?

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