By Michael Finch, Ph.D. ABD
Millennials and Plurals (Gen Y and Gen Z) are trending away from the megalithic social network a.k.a. Facebook. Strangely, I think this is a negative thing. Facebook, with all of its faults, represents the most effective and comprehensive form of online communication that currently exists.
Facebook is a tool that allows us to “share life” with a large community of people.
While this form of communication is not as good as face-to-face interaction, it is the most intimate (interpersonal and corporate) form of community we have online. So here are a few reasons I think Facebook is the best the web has to offer for social interaction:
1. Everyone is still on Facebook (Thank God!)
Currently most people still have a Facebook account. This allows me to easily find contacts and/or plan events, etc. I recently planned a bachelor party, and I was able to find every person minus one on Facebook. It took me just about as much effort to contact the one who did not have Facebook as it did the seven others who did. There is extreme value in having a forum where you can access all of your community members – regardless of how disparate in regard to setting, geography, culture, etc.
2. Facebook has the most conversation tools – all in one place
Facebook seamlessly combines numerous communication methods. I can chat, post, message, comment, get in groups, create events and more – all in one place. I can talk with my grandma in a chat while messaging someone for work while looking at baby pictures posted by one of my best friends from college who lives in Minnesota. This allows me to have a great deal of interaction with minimal effort, and no need to jump from platform to platform to accomplish my goals.
3. Facebook allows for two-way discussion/interaction
While Twitter and Instagram are good for broadcasting stuff, Facebook lends itself to discussion – to actual back and forth about important and unimportant issues of the day. I have had in-depth discussion and debates about politics, religion, family, information and other significant topics with people that I likely would not have had the opportunity to learn from had we not been on Facebook together.
Discussion is so important! We were brought up in a broadcast world where passive interaction was the primary method of technological interaction, and this shaped how we communicated with each other. We need to re-learn how to debate and respect other people’s opinions. I want to learn from people I disagree (or agree) with and move past the polarizing nature of broadcast culture. Rejecting this rich interaction because it is not always easy is throwing out the baby with the bathwater.
4. Facebook is now multigenerational
Our culture has become such that many do not associate with (and perhaps are afraid of) people who are not in the same generation as they are. Old people are irrelevant and young people lead the trends (talk about the blind leading the blind). Now on Facebook we have a new place where everyone from teens to great-grandparents are in the same “place.”
Some think this is bad, but man, from my perspective – this is awesome! This is something that we lost during the broadcast era. Old people became irrelevant, young people irreverent and we lost community. I love that I can post pictures of my son on Facebook for my Grandma who lives 13 hours away, and that’s really just the tip of the multigenerational value iceberg.
5. Facebook provides history as well as individual and social memory
While I think the move to digital communication has generally reduced our sense of personal and cultural history, Facebook is the most static and powerful tool for creating a digital history online. Even though the semi-real-time “news feed” is a scrolling “stream consciousness” element, I also have my personal timeline and can refer to other people’s personal timelines and see a digital history/memory representation of that person. Really, while Instagram is getting closer to this level of historical representation, it still is purely image driven, and leaves out many descriptive and historical symbols/elements.
I have had several students and younger friends tell me something like, “I’m leaving Facebook because I want more interpersonal interaction in the real world.”
But then my follow-up question is illuminating: “what social media are you still using?”
The usual answer is “Instagram, Twitter, Vine and Snapchat” in that order (with some who mention other niche social networks or texting).
So they are often not leaving the digital realm for the real world, but rather are simply moving to different social media forums. I think the exodus from Facebook is primarily people running away from the difficulties of the interpersonal nature of Facebook (i.e. posts they don’t like, etc.) because they prefer more broadcast-centric, impersonal tools like Twitter or Instagram; or more niche, “messages I completely control to people who think just like me” tools like Snapchat. While this could be seen as just another cultural progression, I think we lose more than we gain if this trend really gains traction. Fight the power! Don’t follow the teens to whatever gratifies them most at the moment. Communicate and create community. Offline is best – but Facebook is the best we have online.
Michael Finch is a communication professor and student media adviser at Lee university. He writes about digital media, journalism and the intersection of faith and media. All rights reserved. about.me/michael.finch