While Mark Zuckerberg waits for the latest Facebook privacy controversy to pass, it may be worth considering the larger issues of why so many of us find social networking services to be useful.
Recently, a friend passed on an article by former Yale Professor William Deresiewicz on Faux Friendship which decried the way he saw people replacing real interactions with real friends with simulacra of his friends - "little dehydrated packets of images and information, no more my friends than a set of baseball cards is the New York Mets." While I loved his metaphor of the "loneliness of our electronic caves" where we rearrange the "tokens of connection like a lonely child playing with dolls" I found myself thinking he should just go out and visit some of his friends instead of brooding about it.
My colleague and friend (in real life as well as Facebook) Steve Patterson had a good retort:
Most of the time I use social media to keep track of social media. I have been updated daily for at least 6 months by Bob Metcalf's internet connected bathroom scale that he has not lost weight and is no nearer to his goal of 180Lb than he was when he started. I tweeted him once suggesting that he would have fired a CEO of a portfolio company if he had performed that way. Then I use it to learn about what Chris Brogan and others have to say about how they use social media.
Recently I was speaking with a friend who is an editor for MSNBC who was surveying his friends on their use of Twitter. In response to his inquiring why I used twitter, I told him that I used Twitter to stay in touch with really smart people, i.e. Zoltrain, Dyson, O'Reilly etc. He responded that he used it to stay in touch with Kim Kardashian and was willing to wager $100 that his recall of her last 3 tweets was better than my recall of the last 3 posts of the really smart people's tweets. I did not take the bet.
But there is one bright spot. I was concerned about friends in Chiang Mai Thailand due to the fighting in Bangkok. Though Chiang Mai is 400 miles from the fighting in Bangkok it is the birth home of opposition leader Tahksin and where many of the Red Shirt rebels come from.
After news sources produced few uncensored results, I searched Twitter. There I found a dutch woman Journalist Step Vaessen, Aljazeera's Indonesia correspondent on her way to Chiang Mai. who reports for the English language Aljazeera media outlet. Yes, the Aljazeera that we learned to love to hate due to our fear of the middle east after 9/11. Long story, I would never have learned that Aljazeera objectively reported on east Asian politics and economics had it not been for Twitter.
So what did should I take away from this? We are starting from the end of Jorge Luis Borges story the "Aleph" about the library that has become so large and old that there is no index. So much information in so many unexpected places un-indexed but for social media. I learned this by looking out for the safety of some true friends.
So, please, enjoy Facebook but by all means get out into the world.