Hilltop Views

Facebook a detriment to human communication



Jake Hartwell

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Facebook is an iconic networking Web site with over 400 million users. College students are one of its largest demographics. In fact, a Student Monitor survey found Facebook was the most popular thing on campuses, wit the exception of the iPod. With such approval, who could complain? Well, I can. Facebook is fundamentally altering communication, and, in case you forgot the last uproar over Facebook layouts, change is always bad.

Text is the least desirable way to communicate socially. Phone calls are much better, and seeing someone face-to-face can’t even compare. Replacing these ancient arts are miniature letters sent instantaneously in the form of comments and chat messages. People’s ability to correspond through rapid text immediately creates a strange scenario in which they are alone but feel like they are talking to someone.

Professor of English Walter J. Ong wrote an article titled “The Writer’s Audience Is Always a Fiction.” The idea is that, when authors write, the audience isn’t actually there. Instead, the audience is a mental construct of the author. The same goes for textual communication: You aren’t talking to a real person on Facebook but a mental construct based on your interpretation of his or her profile and textual communications.

Studies have tried to establish precisely how much of human communication is nonverbal. Numbers range from 40 to 93 percent—they aren’t very reliable—but the point is that much of communication has nothing to do with words. When you know people online, you don’t actually know them. You only know the part of them expressed textually; vocal tone and inflection, body language, eye contact and the little things that make someone human are nonexistent on Facebook.

People can filter which part of their personality they want you to see. If someone posts a comment, I can spend five minutes writing something ridiculously clever—in the real world, not so much. The tiny delay in chats and comments gives people abundant time to decide which parts of themselves to project. I’d rather know five people than little pieces of hundreds.

Facebook is also changing friendship. Friends are sacred, but social networking Web sites seem to have little respect for them. Once you only had a few friends with whom you shared the most private of information because you only had the time for a few involved friendships. Facebook is quickly closing the gap between close friends and acquaintances by streamlining friend-making. Suddenly it’s socially acceptable to tell all of your Facebook friends who you’re dating, how much you drank last night and everything you believe.

People have never been good at telling others who they are—and for good reason. The singular person is a unique subject, irreducible and indefinable. Yet Facebook users attempt to remedy the difficulty behind expressing who they are with a strange practice. The most detailed sections of many profiles are favorites: bands, books, movies and TV shows. Additionally, the average user becomes a fan of four pages per month and belongs to 13 groups. Facebook users are defined as a conglomeration of groups and products.

As above shows, Facebook users live in a world where all actions have less impact and meaning. Chatting with someone has less impact than meeting. Friendships require less. The people themselves mean less. To top it all off, the average user spends an hour on Facebook per day, and college students spend far more. With literally thousands of distractions in one place, a simple status update turns into browsing the news feed, which turns into three hours of Farmville.

Why waste your precious time in a place where you achieve nothing and matter for even less? It’s time to start making real friends. It’s time to have a significant and true place in the lives of others.


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Jake, thank you for writing on substance abuse and addiction in this week’s newspaper. They are issues that should be honestly discussed by everyone.

Some of your article’s statements seem a little misleading. For one thing, all diseases involve choices of some kind or other: influenza may involve the choice of not washing your hands enough or the choice of being around persons who are sneezing and possibly contagious, in spite of the risk of contracting the small organism that makes you sick.

You are correct in pointing out the choice involved in the first use of a substance (unless your mother was using when you were in utero). Like many of us, those who deal with substance abuse or addiction give in to pressures that push them to try out a drug. These forces include personal desire, social norms, advertisements (alcohol and nicotine are legalized drugs), trauma, depression, pain, hardship, and more.

Experts make a clear distinction between abuse and dependence. Internal and external pressures, including habits that are formed, continue to fuel the drug use of substance abusers. They are physiologically free to quit whenever they choose. This is not the case with addiction (a.k.a. chemical dependency). As you mentioned, people who have addiction are born with a genetic predisposition to become hooked on certain addictive substances. They do not choose this hidden defect any more than a child chooses to inherit cystic fibrosis.

In the words of Asst. Professor of Social Work, Debbie Webb, “addicts most often experience an atypical physiological response from the very first hit of an addictive drug: unlike those of their healthier, non-chemically dependent peers, their bodies cannot properly break down and expedite disposal of that specific substance, and as the chemical levels rise in their bodies, they crave for more…. Furthermore, the progression to full blown substance dependence is not usually linear, as the article suggests, but runs a course unique to the individual. It can be relatively slow to take hold, but it can also be instantaneous. Method of administration and the load of active ingredients may dictate the speed with which addiction can develop.”

Once a person is addicted, they must fight against the tolerance and withdrawals their body will most likely face. Successfully quitting goes far beyond strength and weakness, which are concepts of Social Darwinism and not of scientific understanding. It is not simply a matter of choice or habit anymore. Volition will reenter the equation only after addicts reach out for help, get the drug completely out of their system, and learn how to manage and accept their biological predispositions. Until then, they are largely at the mercy of a complex neurobiological disease.

You say that society has no moral obligation to reach out and help addicts and substance abusers. I wholeheartedly disagree. The moral obligation of compassion for other human beings is one that we all must answer to. When just one person overcomes his/her substance disorder and experiences a better quality of life, he/she is more able to contribute to the surrounding society. It is a win-win situation.


Joseph Luedecke

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Facebook a detriment to human communication