Social Media

News Flash: Life Still Hard, Despite Facebook

I don’t agree with Umair Haque’s latest post.

Haque, director of the Havas Media Lab who blogs and writes for the Harvard Business Review, says that, just like during the bubble and the sub-prime mortgage bubble, we’re witnessing a social media bubble; people are ignoring the warning signs of a great collapse.

Here’s the money quote:

During the subprime bubble, banks and brokers sold one another bad debt — debt that couldn’t be made good on. Today, “social” media is trading in low-quality connections — linkages that are unlikely to yield meaningful, lasting relationships.

Haque is worried that the prevalence of Facebook “friendships” are cheapening our notions of friendship altogether. If these social network relationships were in any sense real, then social conditions would be improving. They’re not, so . . . they’re not.

Haque’s right that internet connections are not making the world a better place, at least not if you’re looking for poverty, racism, sexism, and the like to be overcome. People still treat other people contemptibly, especially in online forums, and, as danah boyd is chronicling, white flight (for example) is just as pronounced online as off.

But forming new relationships to fix the world is not what social media wants to do. New social technologies like Twitter, Facebook, and even text messaging don’t bring new people together as much as they extend and strengthen existing relationships. Teenagers, for example, use instant messaging, status updates, and texts to “hang out” with their offline, real-life friends, online. They don’t go looking for new friends.

Haque’s concern is misplaced, but it’s not uncommon. People often complain that online relationships are “thin” or “less real” than real face-to-face relationships. Of course they are. But most online social media connections aren’t things in themselves. They’re ways of making existing relationships better.

And, in my view, they do that pretty well.


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