Thursday, November 17, 2011

Twitter Killed the Telephone Call?

A few days ago, one of my favourite musicians, Matthew Good, decided to hand over the job of posting to his Facebook page and Twitter account to his staff. You can read his reasons on his blog. It, along with the comments people left, got me to thinking about the backlash against social media that is becoming the trendy thing to do these days. Where once you were uncool if you weren't on Facebook, it is slowly becoming cool to bash the use of it and other social media.

"What ever happened to face to face interaction?" "People don't really talk to each other anymore!" "We have no idea how to communicate in person anymore." "The internet is so impersonal and cold."

Just a few of the common phrases thrown around by people who are probably pissed off that they don't have more Facebook friends or nobody "liked" their status recently. Backlash that follows a common thread: the nostalgia for a "better time", the years before technology came along and changed everything. Video killed the radio star. The internet killed the art of conversation.

Well, yes, the internet changed how we communicate, along with texting on our smartphones. Yes, some conversations are held in a digital form today where once they might have been over the phone. Of course, even further back those conversations would have taken place via hand written letters that travelled sometimes for months to reach their destinations - at least when it came to having a "conversation" with someone far away.

Your circle of friends was a lot smaller, and they didn't have access to your everyday thoughts and ruminations. Maybe life was better that way; I don't know. I do know that it saddens me to think of the many wonderful people who are in my life now that I would never have known but for that cold, faceless form of interaction known as the internet. And it saddens me to think of all the people whose lives I would not be a part of if not for Facebook.

"Just call them on the phone to catch up with them!" is the response of the backlash crew. Sure. I will find the time in the life of a work at home mom of two small boys, a wife, a mother, housekeeper and cook, to call all of the over 200 people on my Facebook page.

It's not that I need over 200 friends. I have the close friends who live here, and those people I do see and talk to regularly. But for the people who live far away, from whom I am in many ways distanced but who still hold a place in my heart and life - how would I have any connection to them if not for online? And what about the people I have actually met online who have become incredible, say, my husband for one.

In the case of Matt Good, well, I have been a fan of his for nearing two decades now. When I first found out he was posting on his own Facebook page and interacting with his fans I was really excited. Not only has social media given us the chance to connect with people far away, but it has also given us the chance to connect with people who were once completely out of our reach. Being able to respond to Matt and others like him whom I have admired for a long time and to feel that sense of interaction with them is just plain cool, especially when you have been a fan of that person for a really long time.

It's not that I think Matt or anyone else has some obligation to be accessible to their fans in such a way, but prior to social media that opportunity just didn't exist at all but for a lucky few. Matt said in his blog post that he is here to make music and not to be constantly available to people on the internet. But making music and living the life he does is a direct result of people like me supporting him, buying his albums and buying his concert tickets. He says that he would continue to make music even if people stopped buying it, but I am fairly certain that it was the people buying his music that have enabled him to buy his farm, support his family and continue doing what he loves to do in order to make that a reality, instead of getting a different job.

I was surprised that few people responded the way I did to the post. Instead most jumped on the "yeah, technology sucks!" bandwagon. Does Matt Good as a musician and a person owe me an online interaction? No, he doesn't. But I thought it was really cool of him to do it, and while it may not be what he signed on for, it was a sign of his respect and love for his fans. It was really cool, and I'm sorry to see it end.

As for how social media has impacted communication, well, I think the backlash is kind of funny really. Especially since much of it appears in comments on blogs, Facebook posts and even Twitter. The way we communicate has changed a lot since the days of letters carried for weeks, months on horseback to reach their destination. Like most nostalgia, the truth is that we don't really want to go back to that. The truth is that it sucked.

The social media backlash is just another example of hipsters trying to go against the grain. By and large, social media and the internet in general have enriched my life and brought me new friends and the chance to reunite with old friends.

Maybe we could all stand to unplug a bit more and talk to each other, but that doesn't mean internet interactions are meaningless or cold. There is room for both in my life.

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