Tweeting about bowling together (?)
May 15, 2012 7:48 AM   Subscribe

Yesterday's Diane Rehm Show featured a conversation between Sherry Turkle (previously), Stephen Marche (previously) and Zeynep Tufekci. Tufekci has been critical of Turkle's and Marche's assertions that social media is making us lonely. A lively Twitter conversation and critique ensued.
posted by DiscourseMarker (24 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Thanks to social media I've made new friends and enjoy a larger circle of friends that I socialize with. We go out to eat, visit museums together etc.
My kid just spent three weeks in Europe staying with people she met on Twitter.

I'm not seeing it.
posted by entropos at 7:54 AM on May 15, 2012

@drshow Binary debate about whether social media is good or bad, or makes us lonely or popular are pointless. Like real life, it's messy.
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Ruby Sinreicha day ago

posted by clavdivs at 8:03 AM on May 15, 2012

The "critique" link is good:

The next lesson we learn is that while many of us social scientist and humanities scholars all take for granted that self-presentation is, in part, somewhat a performance, many still hold onto the notion that the self is purely authentic; no performance involved. When Turkle and Marche started saying that we perform ourselves online (indeed we do), they mistakenly pitted this against the offline. My reaction on Twitter, “dear @sturkle, performing the self is not an invention of social media.” Marche replied to me, “You lead a different life from mine. Your life is constant self-presentation?”

This is a telling response: the assumption that his offline self is not performed.

posted by mediareport at 8:04 AM on May 15, 2012 [4 favorites]

Thanks to social media I've lost friends and enjoy a far smaller circle of friends that I socialize with.
posted by sutt at 8:06 AM on May 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

Thanks to social media I've realized which of my "friends" I'm really not interested in being in touch with at all, and enjoy a far smaller circle of friends that I actually like.

(And also a big MeFi Twitter family that geeks out over Avengers and Harry Potter and Legend of Korra stuff with me.)
posted by Phire at 8:10 AM on May 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

mediareport: "The "critique" link is good:"

Seconded. The Society Pages consistently produces really interesting and well-considered material and is recommended following for anyone who cares about this sort of sociology-driven conversation.
posted by Phire at 8:13 AM on May 15, 2012

"(And also a big MeFi Twitter family that geeks out over Avengers and Harry Potter and Legend of Korra stuff with me.)"

Quick question regarding this, to anyone interested in answering. Do you consider MeFi "social media"?
posted by sutt at 8:16 AM on May 15, 2012

thanks to social media i am better able to spend time around people who are like me
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 8:20 AM on May 15, 2012

. Do you consider MeFi "social media"?

Now that you mention it, I guess I do.
posted by njohnson23 at 8:21 AM on May 15, 2012

thanks to social media i am better able to spend time around people who are like me
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 8:20 AM on May 15 [+] [!]

posted by entropicamericana at 8:27 AM on May 15, 2012

I'm 0-1 for making/losing friends through social media networks. 'S'ok, I can spare a few. #wonely
posted by octobersurprise at 8:30 AM on May 15, 2012

sutt: "Quick question regarding this, to anyone interested in answering. Do you consider MeFi "social media"?"

Not really. I think of social media websites as being primarily structured around socializing, often with specific friends you choose to allow into your social life, with no other purpose. If all of my friends on Twitter/Facebook left, the sites' usefulness to me would be significantly decreased. I don't specify which people can comment on my little portal of MeFi, and the larger site has a pretty specific mission (share links, ask questions, share music, etc). The spirit of the site would live on even if the specific people left, as they have in the past.
posted by Phire at 8:31 AM on May 15, 2012

I'm not sure if it's making us lonely but dammit it's making us more distracted. For example, I see a lot of couples who constantly use their mobiles to check their Facebook or play the latest social game while their are together with their partner at a dinner, cafe or whatever. We've become so accustomed to play and being entertained that moments of silence and non action become too boring and dreadful and so must be filled with anything, even if it's just checking facebook for the tenth time the past hour. I feel that with some people you never have their full attention because it's shattered across so many sites, networks, games, likes and status checks.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 8:45 AM on May 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Hadn't heard about the Turkle/Tufekci conversation, but Cyborgology has had really interesting criticism of what they refer to as digital dualism in Turkle's work:

Turkle is probably the longest-standing, most outspoken proponent of what we at Cyborgology call digital dualism. The separation of physical and virtual selves and the privileging of one over the other is not only theoretically contradictory, but also empirically unsubstantiated.

The relationships that we curate and maintain online through Faceboook and other social media services are deeply anchored in offline interaction. There is no “second self” on my Facebook profile- it’s the same one that is embodied in flesh and blood. I might make myself look better than I really am, I might even lie, but how is this categorically different than my choice of clothing, the bumperstickers on my car, or a cheesy Hallmark greeting card?

posted by mediated self at 8:50 AM on May 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

Entros, Sherry Turkle (at least according to Alone Together) would view your situations as the ideal outcome for social media. Namely, social media enhances our ability to make 'real' connections (as she defines real) with others.

What she feels happens much more often is that social media replaces our 'real' social experiences. It is too difficult to visit my grandmother, so I'll just skype with her. I don't have any friends in the neighborhood, so I'll just chat with my friends online (rather than trying to make a new friend in the area). Social media has limitations (and as Foci for Analysis mentions, distractions) that make the technology-facilitated interactions less genuine and healthy than in-person social engagements.

She seems to be more concerned that social media is becoming the primary way of interacting with people, rather than a secondary option when real interaction is not possible.
posted by TofuGolem at 9:01 AM on May 15, 2012

I'm disappointed with Diane Rehm. I've noticed that of the few times I have heard a show of her's having to do with a technology or social media related topic, she has given more time to the more sensationalist side. I might have just been hearing things - but I think there was even one point in this show where Tufekci was starting a thought and she straight up muted her to ask another one of the guests a question that drove the conversation in a totally different direction.

And now I'm sad I was out of town for the "Theorizing the Web" conference at my school a few weeks ago, where Tufekci gave a talk.
posted by azarbayejani at 9:35 AM on May 15, 2012

Thanks to social media I've made new friends

Thanks to social media I've lost friends

People in this thread sharing their anecdotal experience with online/offline friendship counts and quality are entertainingly missing the point. I'll join in. I joined "thefacebook" in 2004, opted out in 2007, and I've had issues with loneliness since early 2005. Surely this must show some generalizable something!

I heard the show, and it was painful listening to three people moaning in some misguided fear for society born out of profound misunderstandings of history and technology on one side (Intarwebs stole mah social bucket! Iz loanly now!) and Tufekci on the other.

She seems to be more concerned that social media is becoming the primary way of interacting with people

And there's no scientific evidence that this is actually the case. There are just people like Turkle worrying at high volume. It's dualist, determinist thinking that you'd think we could have shed by now. We've had had Pinch and Bijker (1989) with the bicycle, Fischer (1994) with the telephone, and plenty of other work that could have and should have made it clear to the mainstream that diffusion and development of new technology may disrupt and alter social patterns, but this diffusion never follows a simple narrative where a technology is one thing to all people across time and space and has one fixed and knowable set of effects from any one person's armchair analysis, especially when there is still a lot of "interpretive flexibility" around the technology.

Thanks for this post, DiscourseMarker
posted by tarheelcoxn at 9:40 AM on May 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

There's evidence that empathy and friendship are both on the decline.

This is a particular interest for me because I do tabletop roleplaying game design. This requires intense, empathetic social interaction for extended periods of time. I have noticed some trends in the past decade:

1) Players no longer trust each other to the same extent. A lot of design is now driven by the idea that game systems protect participants' from each other's bad acts.

2) Lots of systems that make the game impose narrative rhythm instead of it being left to less trusted human decision making.

3) Adult players have generally become less skilled at applying attention to the game in the context of a generously shared experience -- they expect this aspect to be automated, or cannot understand how it functions. In other words, they have a diminished capacity to balance the thoughts and feelings of others with their own interests -- in fact, they often consider this an imposition.

Keep in mind that here, I compensate for developmental differences -- virtually all teenagers are fundamentally horrible at TRPGs for reasons they grow out of -- or used to. I started noticing problems in LARPs but initially blamed this on maturity, cohort issues (LARPers are college-aged) and cultural swings. But after a decade passed I could see a definite difference in empathy and effective social skills that never really went away. I have continued to note this gap between (now) late 30something-pluses and late 20somethings that still hangs around when I correct for geekery, nervousness and the like.

This neatly correlates with something I learned when I did marketing and tech blogging: Early and most adept adopters of social media technologies and the hardware to make them ubiquitous are not your kids or youngsters. They're *you.* This makes sense when you match that with the apparent decline in social skills. We old folks have certain models for friendships and relationships we might be able to more easily extend through social networks. We also have attention styles that, when focused on people, are very mutually rewarding. (When I've talked to older tabletop game designers, differences in attention are always a huge topic. Ed Greenwood once told me that D&D was considered superficial because of its lightning-fast play when compared to the glacial pace of WWII and Napoleonic wargames.)

So I have faith that those of us with the skill to make friends will do so through many media, but if we don't . . . I don't think social media will necessarily help. There are tremendous accessibility opportunities for some, but they depend on an entire groundwork that may not exist for an increasing number of people, for whom friendship is not a concept modified by social media tools, but is essentially defined by them. There are people out there, now, for whom "friend," is primarily a Facebook category that might be extended to other situations.

Now back in the nerdland of tabletop RPGs, we're seeing a shift from face to face to online as the leading form of play. I believe face to face interaction is pretty important, so this bugs me, but whatever -- I hope improved technology will take care of my objections. But there is a subtle change in the style of contact. The overwhelming sensation I get is not that of honestly friendly contact, but a (mostly) benign form of mutual exploitation. It seems to not only reproduce the growing problems I see, but encourage them. I'm not exactly sure why this is. At the same time, this has afforded wonderful opportunities and doubtless, real friendships.

I think we're tempted to see issues like this as a battle between conservatives and neophiles. We're also influenced by cultural progress-myths. Social media is probably giving us things *and* taking them away, and we should really be looking at whether we want to live in that remodelled landscape of friendship as it will unfold through apathy and commercial interests.
posted by mobunited at 10:58 AM on May 15, 2012 [4 favorites]

i'm not saying that a completely dualistic view of digital-self-versus-"real"-self is accurate but to say that they're the same is just as inaccurate and is a pretty efficient rope in the fight against internet anonymity

also, thank you mobunited. the whole "decline of empathy/friendship/etc." thing is eating-a-bag-of-Flipz easy to scoff at but that doesn't mean something isn't happening
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 11:03 AM on May 15, 2012

Ugh, it's 2012 and how are we not yet past the point where people still think e-this, or virtual-that, or even cyber-wotsit is some uncharted yet lesser realm of human interactions? People act like people and that doesn't change if there's an electronic gadget between the two of them. Social interaction is a bit like the OSI data model, the physical method we use to communicate doesn't matter because at the highest levels we always socialize in the same patterns.

Jumping into "social media" is no different than what so many people did when they got to high school. Suddenly you're surrounded by a bunch of people who know nothing of you, nor your history, nor all the mistakes and embarrassments you wish you could run away from. So you re-invent yourself and play to what you think will make you cool or popular or envied. (The level to which you are judged is one of the overwhelming influences to how we act, as well. The Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory applies equally well to online forums as it does to tourists who act like jerks far from home.) And then it starts all over again in college. And then again at your new job. And then again when you moved. Ad infinitum. That's just what people do.

Also, there was never some magical time where friends just sat together in contemplative silence enjoying each others company wordlessly and blissfully. Well, not without marijuana. What people did before smartphones to check was turn up the radio or mention the weather or sit there and think about how amazingly boring and awkward this just got and wish they were somewhere else.

While I'm on a rant, I'd like to talk to those who complain about how everyone in coffee shops/subways/queues/etc. are all too busy staring at their phones to be social and talk to those around them. I hate to burst your bubble, but you're probably not as cool and awesome as you think; and Geographic Proximity is not some amazing trait that suddenly makes you the world's most interesting person.

Which brings me all the way back around to my first point. Because inevitably these types of people will decry that all this tech is "dehumanizing" and why can't "kids these days" just talk to real people for cryin' out loud. The part that seems to be overlooked is this:

The Internet, like Soylent Green, is made of PEOPLE.

Everything on it. Every blog screed, every tweet, every text, every picture, every photo, hell every little icon is made and put there by PEOPLE. And it's all there for the express purpose of COMMUNICATING. And every second of every day people are pouring out more than you could ever read in a lifetime trying to express their hopes, dreams, feelings and even every banal stupid thought that enters their head in the hope of connecting with someone else.

In the palm of my hand I can connect with the approximately one-third of the Earths' population that is online. In the span of 3 minutes I can see what my friends are doing tonight, how my mother is feeling after being ill, what my coworkers and I will be working on this afternoon and what people who's opinions i've decided are like mine are recommending me to read (all while doing prosaic stuff like checking the weather and paying my bills.) Neat, right?

I'm directly jacked in to 2.3 BILLION people, including all my family, friends and acquaintances no matter how many thousands of miles away they are, but I'M THE ANTISOCIAL ONE because I'd rather do that than talk to YOU about how the line in Starbuck's "sure is long."

In short (ha!): Internet==Real life and it always has. Stop pretending it's some brave new world for book deals.
posted by Freon at 11:16 AM on May 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

I do buy that there might be a decline in friendship and empathy, but I think it's facile to blame it on the internet. From a sociological point of view, you might as well blame it on the industrial revolution and increased division of labor.
posted by Phire at 12:24 PM on May 15, 2012


Both declines start in the 1980s, so it's not the industrial revolution -- and it predates popular adoption of the internet, too. These recent phenomena might be contradicted by positive social justice transformations since the 80s, which might require empathy, but a sense of fairness is not necessarily about empathy -- as a game-writing guy, this is very apparent to me.

In any event, I don't think it's as simple as blaming a technology, but I do think the change is real and that social media may will not be a simple influence. But I wonder if artificial social connectivity is the Uncanny Valley of friendship and empathy.
posted by mobunited at 12:35 PM on May 15, 2012

I was just talking to my mom the other day about the awesomeness of social media for forming offline connections; I have little kids and we were talking about how hard it is when you're trying to find playmates for your pre-school-aged kids. There is just NOTHING in my town for the summer for the 3-and-under set, and after grousing about it with some other moms I know, I finally went ahead and set up a weekly park playdate for preschoolers for the summer, e-mailed families I knew with kids the right age, and set up a facebook group for it. Within 48 hours I had 21 families who'd asked to join the facebook group and we start in two weeks. My mom was like, "Man, I wish we'd had that when you guys were little, it was so hard to find other kids your age ..."

For me social media's mostly been a positive; blogging helped me find friends when I moved to a new city and knew no-one; facebook (which I joined after my first was born) helps me get parenting sympathy and advice (the helpful kind you ask for, not the annoying kind that you don't) ... from people with kids my kids' age, people with teenagers, people with kids MY age who are starting on grandchildren! Having young children can be really isolating, so I don't feel like facebooking during naptime is displacing other connections, but is helping me build connections that I can take offline when I get to, you know, leave the house.

Clearly social media can also be used to enable oneself to be a hermit to the detriment of one's emotional health, but I mostly see people using it to maintain long distance connections (that in the past might have been dropped or turned into yearly Christmas cards only) and to build local connections that they take offline.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:37 PM on May 15, 2012

While I'm on a rant, I'd like to talk to those who complain about how everyone in coffee shops/subways/queues/etc. are all too busy staring at their phones to be social and talk to those around them. I hate to burst your bubble, but you're probably not as cool and awesome as you think; and Geographic Proximity is not some amazing trait that suddenly makes you the world's most interesting person.

I’ve rarely seen a more vivid example of missing the point. But I don’t totally mind that people are constantly distracted by their phones, this lets me know who the dull people are that I should avoid.
posted by bongo_x at 4:17 PM on May 15, 2012

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