My piece on “The Evils of PowerPoint” in the last newsletter sparked this comment from a senior Consumer Insights executive at a major packaged goods company. Starting with a pet peeve about her research consultants using PowerPoint to confound rather than clarify, she went on to say:
“…I hate that people believe that social media is a way to obtain social community. I cannot stand how all social media presentations start off by saying the growth and emotional connections to social media is due to people’s need for communities. My belief is that it is a way of avoiding true communities where you might have to really be there for someone. If we don’t know our neighbors’ names, then we aren’t really craving true connections. Virtual relationships are no more real than flying a virtual airplane.”
There is certainly a lot of ambiguity around social media and the exponentially changing essence of communication and community. I feel it myself. I completely agree with my friend’s thoughts on many levels. To me, there is just nothing like real, in the moment, personal, face-to-face human interaction. It’s why I love doing qualitative research. But I have to admit to loving Facebook as well.
I first signed on to Facebook several years ago for purely professional reasons. Obviously, my kids weren’t going to “friend” me. I needed to know about social media, first hand, so I could discuss it intelligently with clients. But then old friends started to emerge. Real life, offline connections were reignited, often on a much deeper and more meaningful level.
I’m on the site a few times a day and I’ll post something occasionally – a funny bit from the news, YouTube videos of my band after a gig, photos from a trip or a special event, or anything else I’d like to share.
But I don’t live on Facebook, as many of my “friends” do on a regular basis. It may be nice to know that “Pamela is taking a nap,” “Steve is feeling even more depressed” or “Eric is on the way to the gym,” but somehow I don’t think my friends, off or online, really care about what I ate for breakfast. (Names changed to protect the guilty.)
It strikes me that more than a social tool, Facebook is the new psychotherapy. It’s a way to justify one’s existence, providing the false comfort and illusion that the outside world is concerned with one’s every action and feeling.
The alternate reality of Facebook is generally an idealized world. Fun, funny, upbeat and positive, Facebook creates a realm where good things happen and bad things are marginalized or ignored. We see very few posts about death, illness or misfortune. Be we will see the jobless and mourners displaying photos of their trips, walks on the beach, parties and other activities.
There are exceptions, of course. For example, one Facebook friend of mine, a cheerful, extroverted, charming man on the surface, frequently uses Facebook to unload his bad feelings. He takes on a completely different persona. Brooding, depressed, struggling with self-esteem, he will publicly despair about girlfriends who have abandoned him and wonders aloud if love exists, or more to the point, if love will ever find him.
For better or worse, Facebook is there for us, rational, tangible proof that we matter. That people are paying attention to us. A salve for loneliness and a diversion from boredom, Facebook makes self-affirmation available 24/7. Post it and they will come.
Community? Maybe. More likely, Facebook, Twitter and the like are millions of brief, individual self-administered therapy sessions going on simultaneously around the world.
You know, I’m feeling really good about getting this newsletter done and looking forward to a great night. Excuse me for a moment while I post that…