I opened the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Sunday (one of my few old school publications) and this headline caught my eye: Winnie-the-Pooh checks in. Michael T. Dolan writes a very interesting article about what would happen in The Hundred Acre Woods if its inhabitants were on Facebook. He weaves a wonderful tale of a status-obsessed Tigger checking comments instead of bouncing, a depressed Eeyore writing vague posts to elicit comments from friends, and a timid Piglet who lives vicariously through his online friends and hides in his home.
While it paints an interesting picture, it seriously misses some crucial parts of the social media experience. Perhaps Mr. Dolan chose to stereotype these characters because of the way they were originally written, but I find his re-characterization lacking.
For me and many people I know, Facebook is not a black hole that sucks up my time, becomes addictive and causes me to miss out on the rest of my life. To the contrary, because of Facebook, I am in the lives of so many more people than ever before.
Take my friend April, who moved to California our sophomore year of college. While we kept in touch sporadically over the years via email, it wasn’t until we reconnected on Facebook that I got to see her kids on a regular basis. I enjoy their trips to Disneyland and family get-togethers. Yet, her experiences have not replaced my own. By simply seeing these pieces of her life on Facebook, I am not neglecting my family. The reality is, without Facebook, I would know April had kids, but I probably wouldn’t remember their names or know what they looked like because she lives across the country. I can’t simply bump into her on the street and catch up over coffee.
Mr. Dolan describes a meeting between Winnie The Pooh and Christopher Robin as such:
I picture Pooh and Christopher Robin sitting on opposite sides of a log, their heads hunched over as they tap away on their smart phones. Neither one is aware of the other until Pooh “checks in” at the log. Christopher Robin, noticing on his phone that Pooh checked in, looks up to discover his acquaintance on the log. Perhaps they even nod to one another before going back to their phones.
This description is so extreme to me, as if everyone had become a phone-staring robot incapable of human (or Pooh Bear) interaction. I run into friends in the grocery store all the time. And guess what? Because I see their lives on Facebook, I can say “How was that vacation?” or “I saw your son won an award, that’s great!” I haven’t lost the ability to carry a conversation with a friend, and implying that because I use Facebook that I have is insulting.
That said, I see the point Mr. Dolan is trying to make. Are we going too far? Are we incapable of showing up somewhere without checking in? Do I attend Christmas Eve at my husband’s grandmother’s house and see half the people checking their phones throughout the night? Yes. But you better believe that when it’s time to pray before dinner, the phones go away, and when Grandma Sheehan has something to say, we all listen. We haven’t lost respect for one another.
The other piece that Mr. Dolan doesn’t seem to understand is the community that can form through social media sites that can’t always occur otherwise. Without it, I wouldn’t feel as connected to my family and friends. I realize that might sound trite, and one could argue that without it I would spend more time actually with my family and friends. But honestly, it’s 9 p.m. I spent the day at work, then helping my son with his homework, making dinner, and putting them to bed. Now it’s 9 p.m. I’m going to either call someone or talk to my husband. And that would happen whether I was on Facebook or not.