Wow, that’s REALLY fascinating. Please tell me more.

Ever have those moments when you log into Facebook to find an endless stream of dumb statuses on your Newsfeed and you just want to rip your hair out and scream, “NO ONE CARES”? Elizabeth Bernstein sure has. In her article called How Facebook Ruins Friendships, Bernstein writes,

Like many people, I’m experiencing Facebook Fatigue. I’m tired of loved ones—you know who you are—who claim they are too busy to pick up the phone, or even write a decent email, yet spend hours on social-media sites, uploading photos of their children or parties, forwarding inane quizzes, posting quirky, sometimes nonsensical one-liners or tweeting their latest whereabouts.

For whatever reason, people often feel encouraged to post the most menial details of their lives on Facebook. For example, in Bernstein’s article, one interviewee has a friend who tweets meal updates. “My question is this: If we didn’t call each other on the phone every time we ate before, why do we need the alerts now?” Another interviewee chalks it up to narcissism. “Why is your life so frickin’ important and entertaining that we need to know?”

Bernstein also points out how people have a tendency to share things online that they wouldn’t necessarily share publicly in the physical world. She gives the example of that one couple who are always bickering on each others walls, or the (admittedly grosser) other couple “so ‘mooshy-gooshy’ they sit in the same room of their house posting love messages to each other for all to see.”

Nancy Baym discusses the practice of oversharing in her book, Personal Connections in the Digital Age. Baym explains that people overshare because they have a tendency to forget who their audience is, or that there even is an audience in the first place. She writes, “When we are disclosing to one person or a group on an SNS, list, or community, our behavior is also available to many other people. We may have known they could see it, yet not considered them part of its audience.” She cites one man she knows as an example, who got so disgusted by his friend’s statuses about his child’s body excretions that he started ignoring all Facebook statuses. These were “messages that grandparents or other new parents might care about,” but clearly not things that should have been shared with everyone.

I know I’m guilty of sometimes forgetting that everything posted on Facebook is public. That’s not to say that I’m not wary of what I post, but when I post on a friend’s wall, I consciously acknowledge that this is a message intended for this specific person. I don’t always consciously register that all of his/her friends and all our mutual friends will see this wallpost. I might not realize it, but every time I write on someone’s wall on Facebook, what I’m really doing is writing for an entire audience.

Then there’s the protective shield of being behind a computer screen. Bernstein notes that Facebook “can be a mecca for passive-aggressive behavior.” People might behave more boldly because they’re not confronting someone face-to-face, and say things online that they might not say in person. This can lead to both heated arguments or cowardly behavior.

The video above, excerpts from the TV show The IT Crowd, touches on several of Bernstein’s points (pardon the Greek subtitles, please).

The characters of the show all get sucked into joining Friendface (a very thinly veiled reference to Facebook, if you didn’t happen to catch that). At 6:59, Moss is distraught by the fact that his mom has friended him on Friendface and disgusted that, “she’s put down her current mood as ‘sensual,'” illustrating the point Bernstein and Baym makes about people feeling compelled to share things online that we just don’t want to know.

At 5:20, Roy freaks out because someone he once went out with found him on Friendface and wanted to meet up again. He tries to evade an awkward confrontation by considering emailing her that he isn’t interested, but his co-worker Jenny says that that’s unfair to the girl and he should tell her the truth face-to-face. This relates back to the shield of being behind a computer screen. You can have an easy way out of breaking bad news by doing it over the internet instead of doing it in person (which is the decent thing to do).

Obviously, both the article and the video were intended to give  negative perspectives on how social media effects relationships. The article focuses on the things on Facebook that we find annoying, as well as the damaging impact Facebook communication has on our friendships. The article is presented in a way in which Bernstein doesn’t place the blame on Facebook as a medium, but rather the actions of Facebook users. I generally agree with all the points Bernstein makes. I, too, experience Facebook fatigue every now and then. Getting updates from all of your friends at once, close ones and aquintances included, in real time can be mentally grueling. I don’t think, however, that these can be considered grounds for terminating a friendship. Squabbles and pet peeves exist in physical relationships as well as virtual ones. They can be annoying sometimes, but we usually learn to get past them.

What I get from this article (despite it’s title) is that it’s not Facebook that’s ruining friendships, it’s the lack of social etiquette on these platforms. Bernstein could have briefly mentioned the notion of shared practices. I know that personally, I’m seeing less and less stupid/TMI statuses on Facebook because people are becoming aware of how annoying they are. Through shared practices, we are socialized into behaving appropriately by observing others. She does somewhat allude to this in her final paragraph, writing, “To improve our interactions, we need to change our conduct, not just cover it up. First, watch your own behavior, asking yourself before you post anything: ‘Is this something I’d want someone to tell me?'”

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3 Comments

  1. lauraportwoodstacer

     /  February 22, 2012

    Thanks for posting that clip. Maybe I’ll find a way to use it in class next semester!

    Reply
  2. This is a very thoughtful response on Facebook audiences and how your self can change amongst viewers. This reminds me of Goffman’s Presentation of Self in the Everyday Life; we have a front stage and a back stage and sometimes we have trouble differentiating when it is appropriate to share parts of our back stage. There are moments when the back stage breaks through, such as when you were talking about moments loved ones share publicly on social media. That sometimes can actually be more of a front stage, however, in the sense that people aren’t always genuine in the way they present themselves.

    While I think Baym makes a good point (which you pointed out) in saying that “people overshare because they have a tendency to forget who their audience is or that there even is an audience in the first place,” I think she fails to point out what happens when you are aware of your audience and adjust your self accordingly. People present themselves in specific ways in relation to ones consciousness of who is watching you. When you are aware that there is an audience, you act differently. This does not mean you’re “fake” necessarily, but you don’t always act exactly the same in every way. This is all too common on sites like Facebook, since really all it is is a site for you to build a profile of yourself. It is constructed and consequently you are going to prepare your front stage to your audience.

    Reply
  3. shiggins311

     /  February 24, 2012

    Great blog post, Karen. I, too, found the oversharing part of the text to be fascinating and wrote my blog about it. This idea of “Facebook Fatigue” is interesting and I never thought to put a word to the way I sometimes felt about social networking. On those nights where there’s nothing to do and I’m on the computer for hours, just browsing through social networks, I sometimes feel overwhelmed by all the information that is available to me. I feel the social networking conduct and behavior you spoke about in the tail end of the blog are learned behaviors, yes, but I can’t help but wonder if it’s tied into the way the person actually is. In my experiences, people who overshare or make social networks a “drama” event are generally very dramatic offline; I don’t really know anyone offline who is a timid mouse that turns into a raging, dramatic lion online. I feel like technology gets a lot of the blame for some of this, but I feel like even if social networks did not exist, these people would still overshare and act dramatic, albeit in different ways.
    -Simon Higgins

    Reply

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