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Opinion

Contradictions, paradoxes riddle networking giant

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December 2, 2010

If you are one of the millions living in a world called the internet, perhaps you have encountered the beloved monster that is Facebook. Alright, more appropriately phrased, unless you have been living under a rock, you have undoubtedly heard of and probably use Facebook. Possibly your parents have asked you time and again to explain the importance of checking your page. Maybe they have even asked why you are so obsessed with such a website. Have you ever actually stopped and thought about the answer?  After reading a column supposedly (but not) written by yours truly in Volume seven of the Student Voice back in October, I have been thinking about social networks, both their pros and their cons. After much contemplation, I have discovered many contradictions.

Facebook connects people. Easily being able to keep in touch with old friends, distant cousins and camp buddies is an act that we as people of the 21st century should regard as a luxury. No longer is postage and paper the only way to connect; no more is telephoning the only way to talk. Have you ever reminisced with friends, telling a story of a childhood pal, only to be left wondering what that pal is up to today? In the past, it would have been nothing but a thought. Now we can find the answer. And here is where I come to the first contradiction.

Yes, Facebook connects us, but in doing so, our privacy is lessened. You may have hilarious stories of that childhood pal, but maybe they remember the same stories with disdain.  Perhaps your “pal” doesn’t want you in their life anymore.  Luckily for them, there is such thing as privacy settings and the option to not “friend” them. 

And how informative is Facebook? Getting and receiving information is dangerously simple now. Exchanging thoughts, showing videos and posting pictures are all exchanged effortlessly. Imagine sitting at lunch with friends as you discuss a movie you just saw on ABC Family. “Overall it was pretty lame,” you say. “But then there was this one scene that was freaking hilarious!” You continue to describe the scene, and your friends’ unsmiling faces make you realize that it was a you-had-to-be-there moment. Later that afternoon, you post the scene on their Facebook pages so they understand. Without Facebook how would you avenge your momentary embarrassment at lunch? The information you discover on Facebook can save you money too. If so-and-so hadn’t posted that Jimmy Johns was doing one dollar subs, I probably would not have found out until the next day and would have been severely depressed that I missed such a deal. 

However, I could have done without so-and-so posting about her messy break-up, and I’m willing to bet that I am not the only one. So your boyfriend (well, ex-boyfriend) is a lying cheater; we understand why you are angry. Caps lock and 50 exclamation points aren’t going to change anything, except maybe my opinion of you. Do us all a favor and keep a journal. Paradox two: Facebook can be informative, but can also give too much information.

The internet does give people a voice. Last semester I was enrolled in an online class and to get credit for it we had to engage in online discussions. Our online discussions were very different compared to those of a typical classroom discussion. Without the presence of peers, people found it easier to illustrate their opinions, which eliminated having to deal with others trying to talk over them or get emotional. Everyone had their say, unlike in classroom discussions, where usually only the same students speak. Some students online wrote some pretty extreme opinions. I wonder to this day if they had been asked to explain their controversial beliefs, would they have spoken so strongly out loud or would they have been quiet? Would they have been reluctant to support what they had written online? If so, then social networking sites like Facebook would reveal a third irony: they give people the prospect to speak up online, but offline they also have the ability to silence them. 

After comparing the good and the bad aspects of Facebook, the question to be asked is thus: is Facebook really worth our time? Depending on who you ask, the answer will be either yes or no. Although that is not much of an answer, it is the truth; to each their own. Our parents may never understand the obsession, but honestly, who cares? Millions of people across the globe think it is perfectly acceptable and how could so many be wrong? Yes, there are some issues, but the fact is that the users of Facebook make this social networking thing possible by simply logging on. The problems that arise are their own doing and they can only accept the consequences, as they do.

Ashley Cress is a student at UW-River Falls.