My Facebook page is looking very macaronic these days. Forget pasta; I’m talking language here. I am not an expert on Flemish vocal music from the Renaissance period, but I sometimes listen to a CD of music by Ockeghem and Josquin des Pres. That is how I learnt that ‘macaronic’ denotes a text that is a mixture of languages, such as the Latin/German mixture of the 11th/12th century Carmina Burana manuscript (made famous much later by Carl Orff’s musical setting of part of it).
As Steve Caplan said about his love of bilingual jokes, appreciation is helped if you can understand both languages. Unfortunately I am only fluent in English, with just a few smatterings of words and phrases from other languages. Not so my Facebook friends. I have one German friend who mainly posts to Facebook in English but also in German, Spanish and Portuguese from time to time. I see French, Catalan, Italian, and Turkish in wall postings from other friends and occasionally some Sinhalese. My partner is originally from the Philippines so I have many Filipino in-laws and friends. They post and comment sometimes in English but more often in Tagalog, which is the main language of the Philippines, or use one of the other languages or a mixture of languages. My biggest problems are trying to understand some of the younger family members who post in some kind of Filipino textspeak/youthspeak. I think this may be Jejemon but I am not too sure. Suffice to say, some days my Facebook wall is quite impenetrable.
I love it though. I love to see photos from friends, whether in London or Manila, and odd snippets about what they are up to. I feel some kind of connection that way. It’s also helpful to be reminded when their birthdays are coming up.
Facebook gets a good deal of criticism from tiresome critics to the effect that it isolates people from the real world. Sherry Turkle is the most recent critic. I have some respect for her – I heard her talk some years ago about the time that her book Life on the Screen came out. She was very persuasive and clearly a thoughtful person. I haven’t read her latest book, Alone Together, and I would not dare to challenge whatever data she brings to bear in it to support the claim that technology is
actually isolating us from real human interactions in a cyber-reality that is a poor imitation of the real world
I only know about myself and my own experience of using technology and how it has affected me. I admit that sometimes one can get a bit obsessive about it, but mostly it has had a positive impact on my life in the past 20 years. What annoys me about the critics of Facebook and its ilk is their assumption that in the real world everyone is highly sociable and socialised. They seem to think that use of Facebook and other social media is displacing real-world interactions. How dare they assume that I am at ease in real-world social situations and would be out gallivanting every night if I wasn’t so attached to my technology? Why do they think that sitting in a cafe or pub fiddling with my phone is worse than sitting there reading a book or newspaper? If you deprive me of technology you don’t miraculously make me into someone who is happy to start talking to strangers; you just take away the communication tools that work best for me.
I read another critique of Facebook recently that didn’t annoy me so much, though I still thought it was wrong. Saul Frampton harked back to Montaigne and his recognition that
our inbuilt capacity for sympathy depends on our physical proximity to others
Intuitively this feels right – sympathy is higher for someone in the room with me than if they are at the end of a phone line. But I can still feel sympathy for someone on the end of the phone, or at the end of an email etc. Often I don’t have the option of being in the room with them, so technology really does help to connect me to that person. I think it is hard to feel a sympathy for someone you have never met.
Jill Foster was a pioneer in the UK of using networks in academia. She started Mailbase, NISP and Netskills among other things and she was partly responsible for getting me interested in such things. She was always adamant that face-to-face meetings were important as a way to cement relationships and that electronic communication was easier with people you had actually met. I have found that to be true.
Maybe some social media users are just diving in and having conversations with random online strangers to the exclusion of all real-world experience. That is certainly not my experience and I resent being told that technology is doing me harm.
I think I may be whining too much here. If so then I apologise but I feel I have to defend something that has been important in my working life and now in my life too.
On a more positive note, I haven’t been able to listen to this BBC Radio three part series yet but it looks fascinating. The secret history of social networking goes right back to the 1970s when “hackers met hippies” in California and the first community bulletin boards were born. You can find it on Facebook of course.
Finally, this cartoon seems apposite.