Facebook is great, but information is not intimacy

Published in the Courier Mail 2 March 2009

YOU may read that “Ruth is enjoying her coffee”. Perhaps you will discover that “Michael is studying up on squidgies and flatheads”. Or maybe you will read that “Derric just told himself to stop being such an emo and start loving what he’s got”.

Facebook status updates contain a wealth of information, and are the new way for friends to fill each other in on what is happening in their life — from the trivial to profound. As an avid Facebook user, I have seen births announced, engagements declared, and relationship breakdowns made known — all via Facebook.

With 175 million active users as a part of the Facebook network, and 15 million of those users updating their status at least once a day, Facebook is the new social hub. Long gone are the days of chatting at the local store, or over the neighbour’s fence. Today, the little titbits of our lives are electronically disseminated.

It makes perfect sense. We are now more likely to form a community with those who share common interests, as opposed to those who share a common geographical location. We can’t necessarily pop across the road to catch up with friends as they may be quite a distance away.

As the pace of life hits “harried”, with seemingly no solution to this state, we are time-poor yet still realise the value and necessity of relationships. Therefore, we find other ways to stay in touch. We message each other electronically, blog, share photos online and can even video skype each other.

Any time of the day or night, I can jump on my computer or check my phone Facebook application, and read all the latest status updates of my friends. Some are amusing, and a good way to pass the time while waiting for an appointment. Some are interesting, and tell me a little more about a person. With a Facebook account, you can be awash with information about your friends. But information doesn’t equate to intimacy.

A tragic event last week is a reminder that the human soul needs much more than information. It needs authentic relationships — to know and be known.

Paul Zolezzi, a 30-year-old Brooklyn resident, updated his Facebook status recently with a suicide note, when he wrote that “Paul was born in San Francisco, became a shooting star over everywhere, and ended his life in Brooklyn . . . And couldn’t have asked for more.” Hours later, he hanged himself in a playground near his house.

Sadly, the New York Post reported that one of Zolezzi’s friends left a comment on his status update shortly after it was written that said: “Are you dying? Or just staying Brooklyn? I hope it’s the latter.”

If you do a search on Facebook now, Zolezzi’s profile has been removed, but a Facebook group has been set up to remember him. It has already received comments from people all around the world — some who knew Zolezzi and many who didn’t.
As an online network, or social utility (as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg likes to call it), Facebook is an excellent application. It can, and does, supplement and complement authentic relationships.

However, as impressive and useful as it is, we must never be lulled into thinking it can replace the community we discover when we enter into people’s offline, and often messy, lives.

Ruth Limkin