Facebook, Electric Shocks, and Friendship
Depending on your generation, online presence, and celebrity status, you may have upwards of 2,000 friends. At least on Facebook. But I challenge you to create an event and see if you can get 1% of your friends to attend. My guess would be that if you put a lot of time into it and update the upcoming event with new pictures and details constantly for several months, then 10% will response. That’s 200 People. That’s a lot! And of those 50% will say “Maybe”. That’s a 100 People--5% of your 2,000 friends. But after you’ve tally your responses and given your numbers to the caterer, only 1% will show up. That’s 20 People. And I’ll bet most of those are family.
Why is that? Aren’t we social creatures? Don’t People love a good party? See it turns out that as Human Beings, we don’t actually feel connected to Computers as much as we think we do. You can compare the pictures and stories from your Facebook feed to browsing through so many photo albums. Looking through a photo album does not necessarily make you feel more connected to another person. It’s more likely to make you feel nostalgia. Feelings of nostalgia are rarely motivating. That’s because nostalgia is a feeling of looking back instead of forward. It’s a perspective of wanting to re-live the past—which cannot be done. If it cannot be done, what hope is there? None. That’s why nostalgia leads to feelings of loss and hopelessness. Those moments are gone. I’m going to change gears here for a moment to talk about something infinitely more important than Facebook.
In the 1960’s, Stanley Milgram conducted a study at Yale University where volunteers agreed to be part of a an experiment. They were told to read questions and listen to the answers given by the test subject. If the test subject answered correctly they would simply move on to the next question. However, if they responded incorrectly they had to press a button to administer an electric shock to the test subject. Each wrong answer would result in a higher level of electricity in the shock. Now, thankfully the test subject and the electric shocks in this experiment are fake. The subject is an actor who pretends to react to a shock. Now the tester reading the questions and administering the shocks believes that the whole process is real. In all of the tests, when the shocks were extreme, the testers could be heard almost pleading with the test subject to answer the question correctly—trying to give subtle hints if possible. In scenarios where the testers was separated by a glass wall where they could see the patient, none of them could complete the test. They all refused to continue willfully hurting the person they were looking at. However, when the tester was separated from the test subject by a solid wall and could only hear the person’s screams, but not see them, 30% of the testers continued with the test to the point that they killed the test subject.
Think of wars. Think of genocide. People starving to death. Children who have no clean water. Worlds away, right? Why should we care? Most of us won’t because we can’t see it. It’s not part of our world. It’s not real. It’s just a story.
Now let’s leave the important and much too massive, incomprehensible world of our globe and return to the familiar, small, more relevant world you’re familiar with… It’s the same thing with Facebook. It’s not real. Sure you can reach out to People and message them to interact—just like the hand-written letters of long ago. But you don’t just write letters to People you don’t already share a solid connection with in real life. So on Facebook, you don’t write messages to People that you don’t connect with in real life. You certainly can. It’s just that most People don’t. That’s why even when we are more connected in cyberspace, People are lonelier today than years ago.
We’ve lost the human connection.
However, wanting to reconnect with friends you’ve fallen out of contact with is actually the opposite of nostalgia. You’re hoping for the future. Even better than hoping is planning for the future. Even better than planning is calling them right now. Get off of this blog and go call a friend. Chat, catch up, and make a solid plan to meet soon. Because In order to feel connected with People we need to interact with them. We need to be able to see their faces and see their reactions. That’s what being human is all about! Be human today. I guarantee the friend you call will be glad you did!