In one of my grad program readings, Louis Wirth writing in 1938 says, "The larger the number of persons in a state of interaction with one another the lower is the level of communication and the greater is the tendency for communication to proceed on an elementary level, i.e., on the basis of those things which are assumed to be common or to be of interest to all." Wirth was writing about the phenomenon of urbanism, but it made me wonder what his take on social networking of the 21st century would be. If he thought urban relationships were superficial, he would probably think social networking makes relationships little more than having a couple hundred imaginary friends. He differentiated between "secondary" and "primary" contacts and how urbanism turns most relationships into mere acquaintances or "secondary" contacts.
I currently have 679 friends on facebook and of those, probably only 50 are people I would consider primary contacts currently in my life and maybe another 50 who would be primary contacts if I didn't have the luxury of relying on facebook to know what is going on in their lives. Facebook offers me a convenient way of feeling like I know my friends without actually having to call or write or visit. That is at least 560 other people who I either do not know at all or don't even really care to know and yet, every minute I see another status update about how they spent their day or what song lyric best represents what they are feeling in that moment.
Now, there are some things I really like about facebook. I like that it tells me when my friend's birthdays are because my memory is not what it used to be when I was a kid and had every friend and family member's birthday and phone number memorized. I like that I hardly ever have to read a newspaper because status updates let me know when something major is going on in the world. I like that it allows me to see how kids I used to teach have grown up and what colleges they are attending now. I like that I can see photographs of friends who live across the country or in another country entirely. I like that it has reconnected me with some friends who I have otherwise lost touch with. However, I don't like that I can then just send a quick wall post saying, "Hey! Saw you pop up on my feed and I was wondering how you were. Hope you are well!" or "Happy Birthday! Hope you have a great one!" Why thank you, Facebook, for allowing me to meet my quota for the week of "thoughtful friend" points.
So in one week, I'm deleting my facebook. I'm putting it out there that if you want to keep in touch with me, you can message your number/email/address and then I will do my best to keep in contact. But I am tired of the fact that over 500 of my daily interactions with people happen through status updates via a computer screen and usually from people that I have little to no contact with in my daily life and probably never will. I believe that God created us to be in real relationship with one another; to live and love simply. I don't think that includes 550 people I would never even think to call or write or visit. 550 people I might not even recognize if I passed them on the street.
Disclaimer: I am aware of the small irony to writing about all of this on a public blog that maybe 2 people read or maybe 50, but somehow, I feel like being able to write a few paragraphs on at least a semi-regular basis of what is truly in my heart is better than a one line status update or comment every few days.
APA formatting: Wirth, L. (1938). Urbanism as a way of life. The American Journal of Sociology, 44 (1), 1-24.