Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Facebook and social ability

When I was growing up, I wasn't friendless but I didn't have many friends. I was shy and wasn't very good at navigating the world of my peers. I think Facebook would have helped.

There's been for years a lot of casual talk about how "we don't talk to each other anymore" and "we're always on the computer and don't talk face-to-face". And certainly in some ways this is true. The "Creepy, Sexy Robots" post (LINK) by my Zygote Games colleagues is one example of how technology can be used to get around real human contact. But my experience is that Facebook and its ilk, blogs and the proliferation of online, consumer generated media content, and even the "old fashioned" tools of e-mail and mobile phone greater opportunities for real human interaction rather than fewer.

This has been further reinforced this week by my son. I introduced him to Facebook. Actually, I had to push him a bit to sign up. That was Sunday. Today is Tuesday, he has 45 friends and counting, and he's addicted. What does it use it for? Chatting. That and AIM, which he only signed up for the day before Facebook, have been his focus the last few days. He's online now whenever he can. Games like Runescape has dropped by the wayside. We've had to set down a rule that he has to do his homework before he goes online. And that's all cool. In the physical world he's always been a more social kid than I was. But he's still more like me than not. I'm both happy for him that there are these extra tools to enhance his social ability and also a bit envious that I didn't have them when I was an early teen.

Older, wiser parents may snicker at what they perceive as my naivete. We'll see. I think this will be on balance highly beneficial.

Addendum: What I should have emphasized here is that online activity has actually been shown to augment and in fact increase not reduce human interaction and at least in my observations, this is definitely true. I'll get the references . . . unfortunately, the Queen of this space, danah boyd, is driving across country or some crazy idea like that (in the middle of winter??!!) and off-line for 6 something weeks! But I'll mine her blog and pull some references.
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