Facebook and the Internet–Let’s Face It

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A lot of online social networking sites, Facebook and Twitter in particular, rest on the human need for connection. For letting people into your life, no matter how insignificant the post may be.  Still,   regardless of how inane the post may be, it’s still not the same as being there.  There is no intimacy or sensory experience involved.  Only reading.  There is FaceTime,  a more intimate connection than the  phone time. And why is that? FaceTime provides hearing and visual pleasure at the same time. It is because, since we were babes in arms, the face and the  sensory experiences of taste, smell, touch, and hearing come in to play for a  primal sense of intimacy we all cannot live without.

For some Facebook and Twitter users I feel there is a  kind of a loneliness in which we post our lives in hopes that others will “like” or respond in kind. In which the “Friends” validate one’s existence.  Or at least, relieve the boredom of daily life.   To some users Facebook can be like a drug–heightening a need that is never completely fulfilled, requiring more “likes”, more “friends”, more comments.  Is that why I have to set the timer to make sure I don’t spend the entire day on Internet in a virtual time suck?

In a time when even the smallest thought or feeling must be shouted out and displayed to the world, the idea of what constitutes a friend has been dramatically changed.  How can one have 1000 friends?  Don’t we mean “followers”, and even that  has a marketing or self-promoting connotation.  No wonder every business has to have a Facebook “presence”.

The Internet doesn’t actually offer any of us  a true sense of friendship–but more a  pamphleteering of events for the community.  In this sense Facebook, Twitter, blogging and other social media are phenomenal means to getting the word out about news, great and small, in an individual’s life.  Maybe reading that post will result in a phone call or even something as extraordinary as a visit. Let’s just remember that the more we rely on social media as a substitute for human connection, the more we are actually doing the opposite:  isolating ourselves from the very thing we want. Friendship still has to be cultivated the old-fashioned way and by definition, no one has one thousand friends.  I’m waiting to be the exception.  Where are my thousand true FB friends?

 

Social Networking–A Mixed Bag of Tricks

I received so many public and private comments from readers about my last post on Internet usage (see “The Current Digital Divide”–Instant Gratification Anyone?), that I started to think some more about how social networks have transformed our lives.  People (yours truly included) are spending more and more time on the computer. I set a timer so I don’t spend all day in one never-ending time-suck glued to the computer either web-surfing or social networking.  For discipline’s sake, I look at Facebook only once every other day or so.

I do agree with social network supporters that Facebook, LinkedIn, and a host of more specialized websites not only promote increased communication with friends and family but open new information resources– lesser-known websites, highly specialized associations, and political forums.  Besides the oft-mentioned dangers of exposing the vulnerable to predators and other criminals, or bemoaning the loss of literacy or longer attention spans, there are benefits to using the social networking tools we have available.

One of the most surprising articles I read this summer (Wall Street Journal, “Could Those Hours Online Be Making Kids Nicer?”, August 16, 2011) is a case in point.   Researchers have found that those who have difficulty communicating in person, especially teenagers, are more comfortable interacting via the Internet.  They are not using digital communication to reach out primarily to strangers, but to interact more frequently with those they already know but may feel shy around in face-to-face situations.

The WSJ article implies that empathy and likability increase among young social networkers, even towards those less self-confident and with low self-esteem.  Perhaps more significantly, Internet users are retaining their offline friendships, not replacing them.  Among social outliers, the Internet can increase a  sense of community and belonging.

This made me reflect on how I personally use social networking and email.  I can communicate at off-times–meaning late at night–since I am a night-owl.  That way the early birds can read my email or Facebook while I am still dreaming.  I can send an announcement–for example, a new blog post–to friends and acquaintances with one message, not hundreds. Digital communication also saves me time –a telephone conversation is more fun, video-chatting even more of a blast–but both take much, much longer.  If I am just too frazzled, an email or Facebook message is “better than nothing” and that is fundamentally the motivation behind the less personal means of saying something I really want to say.  Just like snail-mail, before the invention of email, the telephone call has now graduated way up the “food-chain” to having major impact on the receiver of the call as a very personal effort to talk.

However, what if I had trouble expressing myself in person or on the phone?  Would chatting in a chat room be more relaxing, more of my true feelings and opinions, than face-to-face?

Although social networking sites were created to make money, not to improve peoples’ lives, they have changed the landscape of how people relate to each other and there is no going back. Future political and social movements will undoubtedly use these tools to a significant degree difficult to imagine now.  These powerful new technologies are changing  the way we live, but not always in ways that everyone likes.

I am by nature an optimist, believing that the disadvantages of social networking will be filtered out over time and benefits will emerge for users who apply these tools with common sense. But in the early stages of any new technology, the buyer must beware. World-tilting technologies (think automobile, airplanes, telephone, television, computer) do not have predictable and absolute positive or negative effects. Social networking is just such a mixed bag of tricks.

 

Off & Away: Travel Auction Sites—Why Am I Not Surprised?

I discovered the auction site, “Off & Away”, after reading a New York Times article in June.  Off & Away has what seems like an ingenious business model: bidding on hotel suites for what could be pennies on the dollar. I thought I would give it a try.

Being susceptible to becoming obsessed over the idea of bidding in an auction –one of my favorite things to do– but I rationalize that my bidding is usually going to a good cause such as a school fundraiser or a nonprofit charity—I had some fear and trepidation about getting my feet wet in an anonymous free-for-all public “penny” auction online. So, I first researched the website:  www.offandaway.com.  Two former executives from Amazon.com and Amazon’s venture capital firm invested in it.  Not too shabby so maybe it was legitimate, not a scam.  Each day at least two or three  hotels are listed as well as upcoming auctions for planning ahead.  Almost all of the hotels featured are in the U.S. with the vast majority in three cities:  San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York.  All three happen to be some of my favorite destinations so I was hooked.

With each bid you cast, the price of the suite goes up by $0.10 and up to 20 seconds is added to the timer.  There is a “hot zone”: usually about thirty minutes before the auction is scheduled to end.  Depending on how many other bidders decide to hop on board and start bidding during the “hot zone”, the auction time can be extended for hours.  I have watched it extend over five hours with the so-called  “last minute” rush of bidding.  This jacks up the price considerably.

Being the addictive personality type that the Internet further enables, I researched the site, looking for trends in time and day when traffic was heaviest. No trends were spotted, with the exception that perhaps the three cities I was looking at were the most popular and had the largest swings in final bids, anywhere from a low of $30 to a high of over $1000.  I was undaunted and jumped in.

My first and only bidding pitted me against at most four other bidders. My heart kept pumping.  I would read my name on the screen, after placing more than $50 in bids on the desired target suite.  The message was something like:  “Don’t give up.  Hang in there.  You’re the top bidder so far.”  It was hard for me not to be carried away by the excitement and emotion of the moment.  I didn’t win.  The suite went for way over the final price I was willing to pay.

Are you still with me?  I can see travel auctions becoming addicting.  I started wondering if there were software programs that helped some bidders place their bids more successfully.  Things called “bid bots”, automated bidding programs that help either the bidder or “sniping programs” which help the seller place bogus bids to inch up the bidding war.  Perhaps when the host computer sees a frenzy of bids from one bidder (let’s say me), the auction site plants a bid, jacking up the price by ten cents, so I won’t walk away.

The upside of all of this bidding is that the bids you have spent can be applied to any of over 100,000 hotels in Off & Away’s inventory.  I checked out the hotel rates.  Off & Away definitely matches hotels.com so there is nothing to lose in terms of booking a reservation using up your bids, within seven days of the auction closing.          Wondering… is hotels.com far behind in acquiring this formidable competitor?  Hmm…. that wouldn’t surprise me one bit!