Is Facebook Changing the Way We Relate?
I just got back from presenting two back-to-back seminars for some of the staff here at Mount Hermon. Mostly 20-somethings who work with the children and youth who come through on a weekly basis. Very fun folks. Both groups had great thoughts to share on the subject of how online social networking is shaping culture. One staffer asked, “Do you think Facebook is changing the way we relate to one another?” I responded with another question, “What’s your first thought?” She said, “Yes!” Another chimed in, “It seems like maybe we’re getting lazier at relationships because we’re connecting on such superficial levels.”
I mentioned the work of Linda Stone who studies what she calls Continuous Partial Attention (CPA). Here’s her distinguishing between CPA and the popular technique of multi-tasking:
“Continuous partial attention and multi-tasking are two different attention strategies, motivated by different impulses. When we multi-task, we are motivated by a desire to be more productive and more efficient. In the case of continuous partial attention, we’re motivated by a desire not to miss anything. There’s a kind of vigilance that is not characteristic of multi-tasking. With CPA, we feel most alive when we’re connected, plugged in and in the know. Continuous partial attention is an always on, anywhere, anytime, any place behavior that creates an artificial sense of crisis. We are always in high alert.” —Linda Stone
What does this experience of always being “on high alert” do to our relationships? One possible conclusion we might draw (and that we discussed this morning in our groups) is that we are spending more and more time “hearing” but less and less time “listening.” In other words, our greater access to relational information provides us with a steady white noise of information, but one that is so overwhelming it can prevent us from tuning in very intentionally to what our friends are really experiencing. Yes, we get a status update from them or see their latest pictures. But they are perhaps one of hundreds within our social circle, and in order to keep up with all of that information we can’t do much more than attend to one another in a very cursory fashion. In other words, we concluded, our relational overload might absolutely be stifling relational intimacy and quality.
Thanks again to both groups for some great interaction!
What are your thoughts on the matter?