We've been hearing a lot of kvetching lately about how social networking sites are depriving people of "real" contact, breaking down "community", and pose the greatest threat to Western Civilization since the Communists started "poisoning our drinking water with fluoridation", yadda, yadda, yadda. I might take it more seriously if I hadn't heard the same happy horseshit about television forty years ago. Before that, it was rock and roll, then jazz, then radio, then who knows what. SSDD.
I'm not going to address the supposed breakdown of community, since I've already dealt with it before. If "community" is breaking down for anyone, they have only themselves to blame. I live in a city of 300,000, but when I walk into a local store, they know who I am and usually know what I'm there to buy. You only get "community" if you make yourself part of it, instead of just hurrying into the local convenience store to buy the latest issue of Health and Fitness and driving round trip two blocks to get it, you make a habit of being pleasant and getting to know people. Won't kill you to walk that two blocks, saying hello to the neighbors along the way, then chat with the clerk instead of dashing out as soon as you get your change. Yet, it's usually just the sort of person who drives, buys, and skedaddles who yaps about how they just don't feel that spirit of community we all had back in the good old days of the Donna Reed Show. Bullshit. Enough said.
Now, for the notion that the internet deprives people of "real" contact, I'd like to know just how sitting and chatting with someone online is any less real than sitting down in a friggin' bar and talking to the bartender? It's still communication and often damn satisfying. I'd much rather chat with someone online about Rabelais or Baroque architecture or My Chemical Romance, than talk face to face to the neighbors about how the weather's too hot or what an unmitigated ass Carty Finkbeiner is or how some fucking football team is doing. I'll do that, too, but there's only so much I could take it without going batshit. I talk about art and music offline too. So do 99% of the people who use social networking, if not about art and music, then about other interests. They use it as a supplement, not as a substitute. And let me tell you something else. In Pennsylvania, I had a network of friends it took decades to build up. Since moving to Toledo, I've built up a network of just as many friends as I had in Pennsylvania and almost all of them were met online, then moved into "real life". For finding people with mutual interests, the internet's a damn sight faster than the corner bar. Think about it.
Now, tomorrow I'm going to tear into the notion that social networking sites are terribly dangerous, then the next day I'll grab my claymore and start swinging at the idea that the "good old days" were a perfect time of togetherness and community spirit where everyone got along and no one was left out. If you believe that particular crock, maybe I can sell you some snake oil.