Sunday, January 18, 2009

Facebook Reflections

I've been reading this article by, "Does Facebook Replace Face Time, Or Enhance It?" It's an intriguing question (there are a bunch of related articles at the bottom around Facebook as well). In the spirit of my recent discussion about Wordle and Technorati, the article seemed a motivator to talk about other services I use. Over the last few months I've seen some of my blogger friends move to Facebook (with a decrease in activity or cessation of their blog, or a bit of cross posting), or take up a semblance of online communication again via Facebook since their blog lapsed into disuse (at Code Freeze last week, Neal Ford made a point of pruning those dead feeds in order to eliminate a source of distraction). Other friends and family, who would never have blogged, have found a home on Facebook, poking, updating their status, and posting the odd set of photos. I update my Facebook status once in a while, or throw a link at a friend who might appreciate it, but I find myself using the service as more of what the article refers to as a "self-updating address book", one that ties together people I know from my past (high school) and people I know now (work). Usually it's not something along the lines of this quote:

"Jenny and I, along with three of our childhood pals from Saratoga Springs, N.Y., learned that a dear old friend had ended her seven-year relationship through a Facebook status change. We expressed dismay, albeit through Facebook's IM feature, that we had to learn such potent information in this impersonal way."

I'm not saying that they're right and the friend should have let them know in person. Quite the opposite. If you can't come to terms with remote communication as a norm, or at least the norm as a catalyst for most communication, you're not making the leap to the digital culture and it's too bad your children will one day have to listen to your diatribes about how in the good old days you saw everyone face to face and now everything is bad and, by the way, what should you do with the sea shells? I did learn about a friend's divorce via Facebook when she changed her status. And I'm guilty of letting people know I was in the hospital with an infection via Facebook, although primarily because of the immediacy of Facebook over blogging and because the interface to Facebook via my PDA is much cleaner and easier to access when you're falling asleep too fast to type anything substantial. I imagine Twitter would have sufficed just as well if my friends were Twitterites. The full story of something as personal as surgery, or divorce (only if Pooteewheet never throws away the Discovery Channel defective rock polisher she's hidden in the house, which I prefer to call by the appropriate title "trash"), generally follows on my blog, which sees 1/30th of the "friends" I have on Facebook.

I think the difference for me between the two is that my blog has been for me, while Facebook is not. If I'm updating my status on Facebook, it's an announcement to the effect, "Hey, I'm alive and you can find me if you're looking for me." If I update my blog, it's because I'm thinking about something, want to work out something I haven't quite formulated in my head, want to record something for my future use, or want to record something for Eryn to read some day. Only secondly is it a place to share information with others, although I make the effort to record details around processes and experiences I think are helpful in a wider context, like packing on RAGBRAI, doing a Biztalk install or n-depth updategram, and fixing the green screen if streaming Netflix. Because I record so much out there, it is a good update for what me and my family are up to and how I'm feeling, something I can't capture in a Facebook status blurb. I rationalize away the need for a Christmas letter because of my blog. If you're a Facebook friend, you don't need a Christmas update because you and I probably don't see each other facetime wise at all. If you read my blog, you don't need one because you know what I've been up to for the last six years, no doubt in more detail than you're comfortable with when bumping into me.

Because of that, I don't run into this issue, "but stays logged on to Facebook all day at work, and then spends an hour or two, or lately three, at night checking in with old acquaintances, swapping photos with close friends, instant messaging those who fall somewhere in between." I devote a little bit of time to my blog and trust that the next time I have facetime with whoever reads it, we'll have a good place to start a conversation. Facebook feels more like sending thank you notes, and if I post something non-flippant I have to individually IM and comment to everyone who thinks it's interesting. The idea of doing that at work, where the context switching interrupts trying to think about mainframe migrations, is enough to keep me from ever being a Facebook regular.

Over the years, I've been asked several times, "Where do you get the time to blog? I could never find enought time to write something almost every day." Blogging is easy. Thirty minutes max for most posts, it's focused, and I can practice some writing skills I need to bring to other efforts. If you add up Facebook time, status updates, poking, VW bug and jail escapes, and hopping between IM-ing and responding to a few comments, it can easily chew up considerably more time for less mental gain, although it may seem like less if you can coordinate it on your PDA in the minutes on the bus, at the doctor, or walking between meetings.

I should finish with an answer to the initial question. Facebook doesn't replace face time. It enhances it. It's a way to keep in touch and now and then generate enough of a poke to give people an insight into when they should be contacting you in person to see how you're doing, or to catch up with you when you're in the neighborhood despite time having moved you far apart, or as a gentle reminder that you should be getting together because their kids seem older than the last time you saw them. If it reduces face time at all, it's with your family when you're busy facebooking instead of spending time together, and then it's just one of a number of equivalent distractions, not a sole culprit.


LissyJo said...

I am guilty of not blogging as much because i'm tooling around FB and it's a bit more mindless than blogging. Actually, i spend time looking at updates, and i think twitter would be a much easier way to 'enhance face to face time' than FB.

FB has been a nice way to keep in touch with relatives overseas, where even though a phone call doesn't cost much more than calling AZ, it seems more.....more.

NPR has had a few stories by journalists who FB with varying reflections and i would agree it has become the new norm of communication and people should adjust.

Mac Noland said...

Facebook doesn't replace face time. It enhances it. - I agree. Because of Facebook, I've chatted with a number of people who I've not talked to in some time. For the most part, it's been enjoyable.