When Did Social Networking Become So Wrong?

We ran a piece on Lifehacker more than two years ago explaining how Twitter could be useful even if you never posted anything, but that undercurrent of criticism arguing Twitter/Facebook/Foursquare is pointless/self-indulgent never really ceases. And you know what? It doesn’t make much sense and I’m sick of hearing it.

I started thinking about this on my Bitdefender-related trip to Romania last week. I couldn’t get any mobile signal while I was in the country, which was down to either a handset fault or weirdness with my provider — there’s no shortage of mobile networks, as was evident from my button-pressing, screen-swiping fellow travellers. What that meant is that instead of my normal travel routine of tweeting several times a day when I spotted something of interest, I didn’t tweet at all.

Obviously, the world did not stop turning because of this. But I did get an email from my father, noting that I’d been unusually inactive on Twitter (and, by extension, Facebook) and wondering what was up. Which reminded me that it’s not just the people who actually reply to my various comments that notice what I say. Tweeting is a useful and inexpensive way of keeping my family (who now reside on three continents) in the loop.

Amidst the plethora of extra features that are now being bundled in — apps, discounts, likes, trends and so forth — it’s easy to forget that this is the core of what social networking is about: communicating with other people who are interested in you. Choosing to use a social networking tool doesn’t have to mean anything more than wanting to do that.

Those choices have consequences, of course. You have to think carefully about the privacy implications, and you don’t want to broadcast information that poses a real-world security risk. However, when you’re a journalist writing on the road, the fact that you’re out of the country is inescapably public information anyway. The benefit of keeping friends and family (and anyone else who is interested) up-to-date on what’s happening easily outweighs that for me.

I’m not saying that means everyone should be making use of Twitter as extensively as I do, or indeed that anyone has to use it at all. We’re all entitled to our own individual communication choices. But those choices will differ, and if we’ve made them intelligently, then generic “who cares what you had for breakfast?” criticism is about as much use as etiquette lessons from Kyle Sandilands.

If you don’t want to use Twitter (or Facebook or whatever), that’s fine — but deciding to criticise people who do use it purely because they chose to use it makes you look stupid and intolerant. Firstly, because you’re not recognising that we don’t all communicate in the same way. And secondly, because you’re not using it, your knowledge of how it actually works, and how it might help in your life, is going to be fairly minimal.

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