Most things that you read or hear about the effects of social media are negative. They often focus on the effect on young people and include the usual suspects–isolation, bullying, stress, etc. And even with us Old Guys (and Gals), there are complaints about the effect on personal interactions, and the facile (if accurate) stereotype of people at dinner interacting with their phones and not each other. A few weeks ago, in fact, I was privileged to hear a remarkable speech by Daniel Mendelsohn, at Princeton Alumni Day, which linked the erosion of civility today to the internet, “with its no-holds-barred rhetoric,” and the advent of personal devices “that allow us to be in our own space pretty much all the time.” Here‘s a link to the speech, which was entertaining, thought provoking, and about as well constructed a talk as I’ve ever heard.
But, as the title indicates, I’m a fan of social media, although I’m certainly not blind to its negatives.
I somewhat reluctantly signed on to Facebook 9 years ago, sitting at home one day during a blizzard that prevented me from getting to work. I started writing this during a snowstorm that is supposed to drop maybe a foot of snow–but now I work from home, so we are open for business (but it is still quiet). It made me think about how my interactions on social media have improved my life.
The reason that I was reluctant to get on Facebook was rooted in my underlying introversion, which I’ve written about before. I didn’t think at the time that I had any interest whatsoever in getting involved with a social network that would encourage me to connect with people, share with them, and read about them. I was wrong.
I found, relatively quickly, that Facebook interactions were perfect for my type of introversion. As one commentator has noted:
Everything about Facebook serves the emotional and psychological needs of introverts. It gives them a place to socialize and chat with people they like, without having to deal with the elements of in-person dialogues that make them uncomfortable. It allows them to say their piece, without being interrupted, scowled at, or patronized.
I also found that Facebook has allowed me to reconnect with friends, mostly from high school and college, that I hadn’t had contact with in years. This prompted me to attend my 35th high school reunion (after not attending any since our 10th), to be excited about our impending 40th, and has led to in-person meetings with old friends. But beyond that, the ease of being someone’s Facebook friend, meaning both that it is a “one-click” process, but also that the status of “friend” requires basically no effort, encouraged me to connect with people that I barely knew, if at all, in real life. Often with very positive results. Social media has also allowed me to keep a toe into the AYSO world, which I left a couple of years ago, but which is still filled with people I like.
Some of these people have become pretty close “friends,” even if we don’t hang out in a traditional sense. Instead, we interact through Facebook comments (and lately a little on Instagram–I’ve still avoided Twitter), and that has, on occasion, resulted in face-to-face meetings which never would have happened without the social media connection.
In addition to reconnecting with high school friends, as I’ve written here, over the past few years–almost exactly the same period that I’ve been on Facebook–I’ve gone from uninvolved to an active volunteer for my Princeton class. I had a nice, small group of friends in college, but was not really close with what was our class leadership. (If anything, my involvement in college politics was a direct slap at the politicos). But due to the relatively frictionless Facebook interactions, I found myself getting involved first with Reunions organization, then with Annual Giving, and now, I’m class secretary.
All of this has also given me the opportunity to engage in interesting discussions with people with all sorts of opinions. Working alone, as I have for the past five years, has eliminated the “watercooler” type conversations that I had at previous jobs, so Facebook has replaced that. I’ve been challenged to defend my positions by smart people, and have learned to respect (some of) their differing beliefs. Admittedly, I’ve been angered by friends who seemed eager to stir up trouble, and frustrated by people (often friends of friends) who are simply trolls, but overall, I think that most of my Facebook discussions have been reasonably respectful (until I’m insulted, and then the gloves are off). And my Facebook friends have pointed me toward articles on diverse topics, including music, politics, culture, race, and science that I never would have heard about without them. Also, I make jokes, engage in discussions about sports, music, and food, among other interests, and occasionally (OK, more than occasionally), get to vent my spleen.
In the pre-social media age, one of the more notable social networks was the amorphous collection of Deadheads, who created and perpetuated a culture initially focused on following the band and trading music. Other bands picked up the mantle of the Dead (which was never completely dropped), most notably, Phish. Like the Dead, I appreciate Phish, but am not a enormous fan (like my friend and fellow blogger Hal). Although I have written about the Dead, I’ve never written about Phish, until today.
“Connection,” today’s featured song, is a 2:23, concise, radio-friendly pop song, an anomaly for a band best known for long, radio-unfriendly, sprawling jams. It was on the album Undermind, which was at the time supposed to be the band’s final album. It is within the realm of possibility that the lyrics refer to the impending breakup of the band. Interestingly, though, it wasn’t played live during the “final” tour, although it has been played four times since the band reunited. Here’s a live version from 2010, stretched out to nearly six minutes, with some nice guitar and piano solos.