Social Studies in a Digital World
March 7, 2012, by Cathy Fischer
Cathy examines social interaction and social change in an ever-shifting landscape
Navigating the social graph is fraught with obstacles. If I were to draw a diagram, it would probably look something like a dream catcher with extra large holes. You’ve got your Real World Friends, and you’ve got your Facebook Friends: you’ve got your Facebook Friends who aren’t Real World Friends but work associates, your Facebook Friends who are old schoolmates, but not currently Real World Friends, and then you’ve got your Facebook Friends who are inspirational, famous or dead, who you wish could be your Real World Friends. It’s as exhausting as high school, navigating the world of cliques and mean girls.
There’s the challenge of manners. Coming of age during the analog era, we struggle with the social q’s of days gone by, when we were taught to bow at the Ferragomoed feet of Ann Landers. Antiquated behaviors such as handwritten notes and telephone calls still play a role—but less than ever before—and tangible treasures like love letters and birthday cards are fast becoming relics of the past.
In this transition period where Digital and Real Worlds collide, etiquette is still trying to catch up. What do you do, for instance, when you’re sitting across from someone at dinner and they’re texting or checking their phone? New York Times advice columnist Philip Galanes says the non-engagers should excuse themselves, and only if it’s important. But does one say something to them? We’ve taken on a sense of urgency that is not only unrealistic but stress-inducing. How about those unflattering pictures someone posts of you on Facebook and then has the gall to tag them with your name? Stop already!
When I wrote about Facebook in “Technology: Blessing or Curse?” in 2008, it inspired my Real World Friend Jeff to sign up. He reconnected with a high school acquaintance and one wedding and a gaggle of grandchildren later—a la The Brady Bunch—he’s a very happy guy. But then there are the failed attempts to rekindle old flames and the friending/unfriending conundrum. Reunited, blighted, slighted. High school all over again.
I’ve always looked at the social network as the Push-Me-Pull-You creature from Dr. Doolittle. The majority of my Facebook Friends fall into the work category, so I’m often torn between what I perceive as two separate worlds.
Social networking done right requires lots of care and tending—that’s why Fifty is the New does not have a Facebook page. There’s no doubt that Facebook and Twitter are powerful tools for building audiences, fans, clients and converts. It has been a source of important and sometimes spirit-lifting information. It’s where I first found out about my childhood crush’s demise (RIP Davy Jones). It’s where I watched “Shit Yogis Say” which still makes me smile every time I think about it. It’s where outrage turned into action when Susan G Koman defunded Planned Parenthood and Rush Limbaugh spewed hate-mongering assaults at Sandra Fluke. It’s all there, the junk, the gems, the news, the breakthroughs and the TMI.
Recently, Israeli president Shimon Peres was in the Silicon Valley and made a stop at Facebook headquarters to launch his own page and drum up some business for his country. “Facebook introduced more social change than (any) political power,” he said. “Zuckerberg doesn’t have a party, doesn’t have a country, doesn’t have an army… He has an idea—that’s it. And look what he did. He changed the world.”
Egyptian Google employee Wael Ghonim sparked a revolution when he posted images of slain Khaled Said on Facebook. Twitter too was a major player in Egypt and Syria, and with Occupy and other movements. The world has been changed by people connected via social networks. As Tevye said in Fiddler on the Roof, “It’s a new world Golde.” It most certainly is.
Got any pet peeves regarding the collision of the digital and real world? How do you navigate the new social order?