It is obvious how Facebook allows conversations to take place regardless of the distance between participants. Conversational threads between multiple parties in locations spread across the globe happen with more ease and efficiency than any conference call. An element of this new conversational dynamic that is easy to overlook is the way Facebook conquers not just space, but time.
When you have a pint with someone and discuss matters of the day, sports, philosophy, or family, you’ve got the time allotted, and then you can mill it all over and process the implications of the conversation later. On the phone, you’ve got a a few seconds to reply to questions or to pose them. It would be awkward and disruptive to make your interlocutor wait for minutes or hours as you think over her comments before responding. Hanging up and calling back every few hours or days to complete the conversation in fragments is equally cumbersome. In many ways, time, rather than the flow of ideas, is in control of what gets covered. Facebook overcomes this constraint.
Online threads can begin anytime, and participants in the conversation can post immediately or hours, or days, or even weeks later. Everyone is notified, and everyone has the chance to let it sink in, go about the day’s business, and respond only when they have the time and their thoughts are clear. There are myriad conversation flowing at any given time, and you are free to enter and exit at will, around your schedule.
The ability to maintain relationships and social connections on your own schedule is incredibly freeing. It allows you to break your day into modules and specialize in particular activities when you are most capable of doing them well. I often lump all my social interactions for the day around lunchtime by browsing Facebook. I might be lying in bed that night when someone’s post pops into my head. I can post a comment immediately from my bedside smartphone, or wait until the next morning. The conversation’s not going anywhere.
The passive nature of Facebook, like email, is easy to manage and keep from being a disruption. But unlike email, Facebook has an open format where posts are directed at nobody in particular, so you can freely enter or exit the stream. It may seem like a recipe for shallow relationships and flighty social bonds, but I have not found this to be the case. Facebook is not replacing dinner with my family, or a phone call with my brother, or a funny text with a good friend; it is supplementing them. It opens entirely new groups of people to socialize and share ideas with; people who, if only phone or in-person meetings were available, I would realistically never have the ability to get to know. What’s really cool is that, if you so choose, you can form in-person relationships with these people at any time and much of the small talk is already out of the way. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve met fellow travelers at events and been completely unsure whether we’d ever met in the flesh before, because we know each other so well from Facebook.
Your social life is in your own hands like never before. You are no longer bound to friendships of happenstance – who happens to move in next store, or share an office – but can build various overlapping social circles based on your genuine and dynamic interests. Of course you’ll still talk to the neighbor. But if they happen to be crazy or uninteresting, that’s not your only option. You’re free from the constraints of proximity. Neither are your forced to get all your catching up done during those difficult to schedule windows when both parties are free. You’re free from the constraints of time.
This new way to interact might seem like a fun little perk for your personal pleasure, but does it really have transformational power over society? Consider the efficiencies in knowledge capture and transmission and the ease and individual control with which social capital can be built and maintained. The freedom from time and place in the social arena has staggering implications if you ponder and let it sink in.