Tuesday, February 5, 2008

The Value of a Face

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.


wheelsonthebus said...

I like your honesty here. I agree that online relationships are different and not as strong. However, I would contend that they serve a very different purpose than face-to-face. For me, they have forced me to search who I am. Also, the interesting thing about online relationships is that you meet types of people you might never meet IRL.

Julie Pippert said...

I'm glad you took this angle. My post was long enough without going too deeply in the loss of interpersonal real contact (although I hinted about it). But I think it's important.

I think we need to consider the importance of real interaction, and even the positive benefit of a casual handshake for touch.

Really well-written and good points, and so personal.

It's true; we need to consider whether social media an online interaction is the best or only method of communicating with *that* person, and keep up our face-to-face time, too.

mommybytes.com said...

I see your point about talking to people face to face, even strangers, but that only works if you are extroverted. Me, I head for the self-checkout and the ATM and rejoice in online transactions. I hate when the phone rings. Social networking has brought out more interactions with people because you are protected by long length of wire instead of having to deal with them in their entirety face to face. I really enjoyed reading this post and will keep it in mind next time I'm at the checkout.

TwoSquareMeals said...

I definitely think there are benefits to online relationships, if one can avoid the danger of trying to portray herself as different than she is. I am thankful for the people I have gotten to know, like you, with whom I can have honest and interesting dialog. The blogs I love most are those where people share honestly. I am especially thankful that the bit of anonymity between women on the blogosphere allows us to discuss controversial topics without getting too emotionally involved or taking it as an affront against our friendship. That's one of the things I dislike about my friendships with other women in real life, we can't always disagree without getting offended.

Julie, I definitely only looked into one of many angles of this issue. I'm looking forward to reading others' views, once the kiddos are napping!

You may not know it from this post, but I am actually an introvert, too. I definitely need my alone time to recharge, and I don't always enjoy that face-to-face interaction. I think my faith has helped me to start seeing people as worth the discomfort, and has taught me that I need that interaction to jump out of my selfishness. Not everyone needs to seek out interaction like I do. For other introverts, online friendships are a great benefit because they help them open up more than in real life. I guess what I am getting at is the importance of physical contact with other people, of remembering our humanity. Online social networks can be great tools but only if they aren't complete substitutes for being with the people in our communities. Thanks for visiting and commenting!

TwoSquareMeals said...

And I definitely used the word "definitely" way too much in that previous comment!

le35 said...

Two Square Meals,

I agree that the face to face had a value. I also think that the values of social networking are available. However, I think that sometimes the danger of the internet is that people feel like they never have to leave. The movie, "The Net" is a little old and somewhat extreme, but in the end, it's more true now than it was when it was made. You're right that the internet should not take place of real life.

the end of motherhood said...

I love the chance encounters with strangers in life - the moment of connection when you buy groceries from a farmer at the outdoor market, or stamps at a post office. Those are the moments that make the day to day come alive.

Katie W. said...

2square...as much as I dig this entree (the blogosphere that is) into your world and thoughts these days...I still picture you. Your right, these blog chats are no match for sitting on the cold evening sand in Litchfield smoking cigars and talking. :-)

I have totally wrestled with these questions you raise, thanks for the practical ideas on how to see more faces in our world.

(((((HUGS))))) sandi said...

I am really enjoying finding your blog~I clicked over from Et tu?~just found that one as well. My experience is that my two very best friends in life (besides my darling) have been relationships I formed online and then found we were in the same state. I have also experienced giving in real and tangible ways from online friends~more so than IRL almost.... (((((HUGS))))) sandi

TwoSquareMeals said...

I would looove to be sitting in cold sand on the beach with you right now. Though I may have grown up to a good glass of wine over a cigar!

Sandi, thanks for visiting. I'm glad you're enjoying it. Et tu? is one of my favorites!

LE, I've never seen "The Net," maybe I will check it out.

TEOM, I LOVE my farmer's market folks!

melissa said...

I so totally agree with the "sorority" aspect of it all. It could become overwhelming to maintain all of these relationships at the expense of real life. Something to keep an eye on...

I never did do my Lent post...sigh...maybe on Sunday...I'm out of town and I couldn't even get to services today. :(

TwoSquareMeals said...

Funny you should mention Lent. I am looking into limiting my time online for Lent. I am definitely missing out on the real world too much these days.

Mark Horner said...

Hear, hear, ASC, and to all those shared experiences we recall.

All my best,

Mark Horner said...

P.S. The thought of you and Katie smoking cigars on Litchfield makes me want to see you all in the worst way!

Yolanda said...

That was such a beautiful and elegant post about a topic that seems so opposite if elegant and beauty. One thing I miss about being young, single, and car less is all the little stories I would pick up from people as I waited at bus stops or rode a few stops with people. People are attracted to telling me their stories, always have been. But now that I am mostly isolated with my infant at home, the only place I get these stories is to seek them out from other storytellers on their blogs.