- The face is the mirror of the mind, and eyes without speaking confess the secrets of the heart. -Saint Jerome
- Your face, my thane, is as a book where men may read strange matters...
- -William Shakespears, Macbeth, Act I, Scene 5
All action is of the mind and the mirror of the mind is the face, its index the eyes.
Although I was the one who suggested this week's Hump Day Hmm topic on the ethics of social networking, I have no idea what to say. I am sure I am less qualified than anyone else writing on this topic today. But my very inexperience in the world of blogging, online social networking, Facebook, and all of those other things that I don't even know about, may give me a unique perspective.
I was an English major in college. I love books, the smell of a new book, freshly opened to its pages with clean white margins. I could get lost in the dusty and ancient aromas of a used book store, piles of books taking up every available space, the insight into past owners from the scribbles in the margins. Books, paper, nice pens gliding along a blank journal page as my thoughts flow.
I am in ministry. I love people, messy, funny, imperfect, kind, angry, unique people. I love watching people in airports and malls and wondering what their stories are. I love meeting people from other cultures, whose language I don't speak, and communicating with them anyway. People and their stories, faces and books. Reading.
My husband's best friend still goes inside the gas station to pay for his gas. He says we have lost the ability to communicate face-to-face and that it is damaging our culture. I have two kids in car seats, so I am not about to go in to pay every time. On the odd time that I do, however, I always wonder what the story is of the person behind the counter. I love looking into faces. I never use the self-check line in the grocery store unless the lines are extra long and I am in a huge hurry. I prefer the drive-up window over the ATM. I prefer real people and real paper over machines and computer screens.
How did a bibliophile who actually seeks out daily face-to-face encounters with people enter the world of online social networking? I'm not sure I did, really. I mean, I have a blog, mostly because my friends kept telling me I should. I only starting reading blogs to keep up with friends far away, people I actually knew in real life. I joined Facebook because it was the only way to get information about my high school reunion.
Both my blog and Facebook became a fun way to keep up with friends and exercise my mommy-brain a little, so after a friend invited me to join a social networking group for bloggers, I decided to try it. I had no idea what I was getting into! There were groups and rankings and people wanting to be my friends. Now, to be fair, I did meet a lot of nice people with interesting blogs. But the pressure! I felt like I was in a high school popularity contest or a sorority rush (neither of which I cared about in high school or college). I was bombarded with e-mails to check my ranking and approve friendship requests. I felt stressed. I felt I had to keep up with all of these friendships. I could have easily ignored my established relationships with neighbors and friends in order to increase my ranking and keep my online friends happy and returning to my blog. So I stopped.
That was my brief experience with social networking. I don't consider my blog much of a social network, as I have only a few regular readers. I also only comment on blogs when I really feel like contributing to the conversation. Through the online group I joined for a while and some other random links, I have found some bloggers with whom I feel some connection and whom I enjoy conversing with via comments and e-mails. I don't regret "meeting" those people, you who are reading my blog and participating in the Hmm, especially. But let's be honest. If we lost touch, I wouldn't be as sad as I would if I lost touch with a good friend, someone with whom I have shared cups of tea and late night talks and funny movies and good mountain views.
There is a reason that college friendships are often the deepest outside of family. We see those people face-to-face on a daily, or near daily, basis for four years. We don't just share ideas, we share experiences and silent moments of communication. We see one another's eyes and can read one another's souls. We hug, we wrestle, we dance, we high five, we connect. No amount of e-mail can make up for face-to-face interaction. No machine can substitute for a cashier handing you change and a receipt. Even on the most fundamental level, human touch and shared space are connectors in a way that virtual communication cannot be.
And so I enter the world of online social networking cautiously. I have met some interesting people and been able to engage in some fascinating conversations. I have found an excellent media for spilling my random thoughts without the work of writing a full-fledged book. I think that the blogosphere is a good thing, especially for moms who may be isolated at home. I think online social networking may be very useful for small businesses to connect with like-minded people. I think it can be used badly, to prey on people who want desperately to be popular. I think that it is very easy to make "friends" online for personal gain and at no cost to oneself.
Perhaps you could call me a Luddite, if one can be a Luddite and still use a computer. I approach all technology cautiously. If I weren't married to a software engineer, I probably wouldn't even know what a blog was. I may not even have internet at my house. As it stands, I still prefer reading a good book or a friendly face over reading blogs on a glowing screen.
Nothing can substitute for human interaction and shared space, even on the most basic level. I know the checkout people at my local grocery store, and they know me and my boys. I may not know the details of their lives, but they know which boy will want a sticker on his jacket and which prefers to hold it in his hand. If I need a good web designer, I am going to ask my friends who know my face, who have looked into my eyes and know what would suit me best.
We rush by people enough as it is in this hurried life we lead. We don't look into eyes. We miss so much. If the blogosphere helps us to slow down and connect, then it is a good thing, but we must take that into our lives as well. My suggestion? Try going in to pay for your gas next time, and maybe even use the attendant's name and thank her for your change.
Click here to read more posts on this topic.