The Interactive Dinner Table

From the Ruston Daily Leader November 2010

How many friends do you have on Facebook?  Seven hundred and fifty-eight?  Two hundred and three?  How many of them will sit with you at the dinner table this Thanksgiving?

During the holiday season most of us are drawn together by family.  We come back to our hometowns, maybe see some old friends from high school.  We visit with relatives who may know little about us but are bound to us by blood.  There exists an understood interest because are, by extension, a part of who they are.
But on social networking sites there is no hierarchy.  Every friend is in the same playing field.  When you share something you are not making an intimate gesture but you are sharing it with your entire customized world of acquaintances.

All of this makes me wonder about the role social media plays in the family and private life.   Growing up with Internet and sites such as Xanga (an online blog) and Myspace (a spam-ridden precursor to Facebook) being present for the majority of my teenage years, I have seen it become a necessity in the lives of the youth.  I see this especially with my younger brother whose left hand is an iPhone as he is constantly engaged in a dialogue with his peers, making it easier to ignore the nosy inquiries of his sister.  From my observations, this form of dialogue seems to dissolve the private life.  Not only does the meaningless permeate the meaningful but the private is rendered meaningless by becoming publicized.

Often these outlets are lauded for maintaining connections with people with whom you otherwise would have lost touch.  But if that’s the case, is it really important to have these “friendships of memory” kept?

What I mean to say is that I suspect these social media sites are not beneficial for the relationships that add meaning to our lives.  And furthermore, the participation in them, the kind of strange surveillance of people you no longer know, takes away from the nostalgia wrapped up in the memory and mystery of those people.  How much has it aided in strengthening serious relationships?

In thinking about all of this, I remember something from the last conversation I had with you about the technology debate and how the current generation is more influenced by their peers than ever before, constantly under each other’s “surveillance”.

It makes me wonder where the place is for those who long for an adult conversation.  Does it further implicate a separation for those youth who want something different?  Are they to be viewed as strange and perverse?

Expectations for conformity are already rampant in teenage years but with such little private life, is it possible that in marketing to the many one could become devoid of meaning themselves?

These sites primarily promote those who look good on paper but not necessarily those who are great in action.  They traffic in the immediate.

They traffic in appearances.  The entire foundation of the social network is that one may sell themselves by the image they create.  And I often wonder how much people can back up the way they market themselves.

And all of this has an effect on the private life—on how one calculates meaning and trust.  For a few centuries not there has been a dissolution of the family due to technological advances which led children away from the farm and out into the industries.

The rise of social networking sites is just an example of another development that may not lead people away in a physical sense but the implications of an unexamined participation in the interactive world is that it can separate one from reality, from what is truly meaningful.

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