Voyeurism as a National Pastime

Online social networks are supposed to connect people, to keep friends together, to make society more, well, social.

The question is —do they work? Do social networks really bring people closer?

I suppose it all depends on what the word “closer” means.

Closer could mean, “spending more time together.” But this can’t be how social networks actually keep people together, because every moment you’re on Facebook, or some other social network, you’re actually not spending time with someone.

The chart on the left is from a study commissioned by a major financial institution. For whatever reason, they were curious to know why people log onto social networking sites. As you can see the most common answer is, “to see what my friends are doing.”

You’ll notice the way the answer is phrased. It’s not, “to talk to my friends.” It’s not “to catch up with my friends.” It’s, “to watch my friends.”

This seems to be a common theme in our culture —a culture of watchers and lookers. In a world that treats the next pretty girl as an object (“eye candy”), and the next star as a soap opera, where people are famous for being famous, I suspect social networking is more than just about keeping friendships alive.

I suspect online social networks slip all too easily into something else, into watching more than caring, into seeing others as objects to be used for entertainment rather than people to be cared about.

So here’s a challenge for today: When you log onto a social network, don’t just watch. Don’t just keep up with what your friends are doing. Find someone to care about, and actually care about them as a person. If you see hurt, or pain, or sorrow, then get off the network and go meet them face to face. If you see a need, figure out how to fill it.

Get in the habit of treating people as people.

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