We have seen many changes in technology in the last three and a half decades that I’ve been alive. However, the introduction of the internet was a technology that has combined human interactions with technology. This was unlike the other technological changes. There are several venues where people meet. There are social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace. There are also YahooGroups for discussing topics of mutual interest to each other. Also, people meet through online dating sites. Is this a good thing or a bad thing?
When I posed the question to my Facebook friends as to what they think of social networking sites, my friend H, replied that since she has not one but two autistic children, she finds it difficult to socialize. However, online socializing affords her the ability to socialize when she has a few minutes off from the kids. She and I actually originally both commented on the status of Frum Satire. She “friended” me. She was one of the first people I became Facebook friends with that I didn’t know yet in person. We went to see Heshy Fried aka Frum Satire together on Sunday August 16th, 2009. At the show, I met another of my Facebook friends, the commenter with the really long Hebrew name. Unfortunately, there was also a guy there (J) that I hadn’t met in person and didn’t want to meet. I had spoken to him on the phone as he claimed to have a resource for anyone interested. However, he immediately tried to meet for coffee. He tried to talk to me after the show. I grabbed H and we left.
While some have benefitted from social networking, like my friend H. Countless stories abound of problems that resulted from meeting someone online. People have met with someone who stole their money. Women have dated men who were already married. I found an article-1 about several teen girls who were lured into meeting older men off of MySpace and then sexually assaulted. Some of the girls in the article were drugged first, too. A really creepy and disgusting article-2 I ran across told of a father propositioning his own 13-year old daughter over Facebook. I even found a recap-3 of news stories from 2005. The stories of sexual predators online are endless.
On a more personal note, I have been able to find or be found by old friends and keep in touch with them. We comment on each other statuses and occasionally chat. My landlord’s daughter (from growing up) actually managed to find me. I found a picture of my mother’s house on her page back when it was red. It was painted blue when we were all young. She also found a picture of me at one of her birthday parties. I managed to find more friends than found me, mostly because my first name-last name combination is quite common. I found many of my friends from college the first time (ten years ago). I found a friend from the Army. I found my French pen pal that I haven’t talked to since high school.
When I wanted to gather friends to go ice skating over winter break from school, I just put up a status on Facebook asking who wanted to go with me. When I wanted advice on what netbook to buy, I just put up a status asking about it. If I had to call everyone to see who was free to go ice skating or who knew about the netbook, it would have been an exhausting effort. In fact, an online friend from the other side of the world, was one to share advice about the netbook. I sure was not going to be making phone calls to the other side of the world for something like that. Actually, I originally spoke to this girl from a Yahoo group to discuss conversion to Judaism, another medium of socializing online.
While I have not had any horrible experiences like the ones described earlier in this discussion, I have experienced some downfalls. Most notably, the sheer volume that you can lose, “farting around online” as I call it, tends to happen through Facebook or even reading and replying to comments from others' blog posts. Generally, the blog posts themselves do not take up so much time. I, now limit my reading of other blogs and the comments to when I’m waiting for the bus and other down times when I have signal on my cell phone. Rarely, now, do I read blogs from my computer when I am home.
Another time-killer is chatting with friends on Facebook. I discovered during final exam season that it’s best to put myself into offline mode if I have my Facebook open. One girl who is not in college but, a vocational program to teach day care, just couldn’t understand that when I put up a status that I was not available to socialize until December 22, she was included. She called me on the phone, “what’s your status about? What? Like you have school?” I had to tell her, “It’s finals season, do you NEED something or are you trying to chit chat?” It’s unfortunate that I have to take myself offline because there’s a woman I work for who will send me instant messages on Facebook. Although, now she sends them on Yahoo.
Many people hear the stories about the predators online like the ones above and become very afraid of the internet. So, now that we have examined both sides of the issue, I leave you with my conclusion about social networking. Children are sometimes scared that there is a monster under their bed. While it may be more realistic that there is a monster under our internet, one should take precautions that will reduce the risks. Generally, one shouldn’t be running out to meet new people in person that they just met over the internet. In fact, Hannah and I were friends online for at least 6 months before we finally met up. Predators usually get impatient. Also, one should not be sharing personal information to strangers or as part of their online profiles. Many articles online list safety precautions-4 of interest to all, but particularly for teenage girls.