I think Facebook is fun. Let me emphasize that I am not saying this to start a debate about Facebook per se–why people should or should not be on Facebook, issues of privacy, what you think of the new layout, etc. I realize it’s not for everyone, for a variety of reasons, and I don’t want to hash that out here.
What I want to specifically talk about is a particular criticism of Facebook (or social networking in general) I’ve seen multiple times which I find somewhat jarring. It goes something like this: “I don’t want to hear about the mundane details of people’s lives. I don’t have time for such inanities.” In almost any article about Facebook, you can count on the fact that several smug-sounding people will appear in the comment section to brag that they aren’t among the masses of ridiculous people on Facebook who need to share what they ate for breakfast. (Or to assert that they have Real Lives and so don’t need to waste their time with virtual relationships, despite the fact that here they are online making comments to people whom they don’t know.)
These kinds of complaints frequently seem to see such minor chit-chat as getting in the way of Things That Matter, things which are Important. But when I look at the relationships in my life, including the ones that matter most to me, they largely consist of . . . the sharing of small life details. Sure, they also include serious conversations about difficult personal issues, discussions of challenging intellectual questions, and so forth. But it’s that regular sharing of those mundane details that keeps the relationships going.
The dismissal of small life details as unimportant also grates on me in that it reminds me of traditional gender stereotypes which portray women as the ones who go on and on about the trivial things in life, much to the dismay of the stoic male. In this paradigm, men, don’t “chatter” or “prattle,” don’t waste their time discussing such silly matters as who is mad at whom, or where the neighbors are planning to spend their vacation, or this crazy thing that happened to Sister-So-and-So the other day while she was driving to work. Rather, their conversations are Weighty and Serious (i.e., about topics that men find important). When I see studies which suggest that even in settings where men talk more, women are likely to be perceived as talking more, I wonder whether along with the problem of the (frequently debunked) stereotype that women are more talkative, this perception might be tied to a sense that female conversation is more trivial.
But regardless of the gender dynamics at work here–and I’ve certainly seen the “I’m too sophisticated to talk on Facebook” attitude from both sexes–I have to ask: what would it really be like to live in a world in which no one spoke until they had something profound or deeply meaningful to say? Some might view this as a utopia, but I have a hard time imagining any kind of thriving relationship based on this kind of approach to communication. For me, it’s precisely the small details, the random thoughts, and of course the pervasive silliness, that make me appreciate places like Facebook.
I was actually first enticed into signing up several years ago because of the number of Bloggernaclers there. Which on the face of it sounds somewhat odd–if the primary way you know people is online, one might ask, why would you seek out yet another online forum in which to talk to them? After years of interacting with people on blogs, I often already know a lot about them, and often very personal stuff–their religious perspectives, and sometimes even their most challenging life struggles. But one of the appealing things about seeing bloggers in a different online context lies precisely in that you get more of those supposedly unimportant mundane details, that you see more day-to-day bits of people’s lives. When you have that, I think it’s harder to simply demonize those with whom you disagree.
My siblings are scattered around the country. We keep in touch in a variety of ways–we talk on the phone, we email, we have regular chats, and (of course) we blog. But one of the things I miss most about not being in close geographical proximity isn’t the long, complex conversations (as we seem to manage to still have those, at least occasionally). I miss the connection that comes from hearing regularly about the bits and pieces of their lives.
So I say, bring on the mundane details. I want to hear them.
Note: Thou shalt not hijack this conversation into an argument about other aspects of Facebook, lest ye stir up the wrath of the Bouncer.
- 15 October 2011