Will Facebook replace face-to-face?

In her November 14 post, Elaine Eschenbacher asks whether new technology creates barriers that further isolate us from each other or whether it can be a tool to draw us closer together. Below is a story about a young man who used the social networking web site MySpace to find and connect people who share an interest in doing work for the common good. Do you think MySpace - and Facebook, Yahoo Groups and other online networks - are the future of organizing? Or do we need some amount of face-to-face interaction in order to do real, sustainable work together?

In this October 29 story in the New York Times, 23-year-old independent filmmaker Chaim Lazaros says he found several people on MySpace who are serious about making their communities cleaner, safer and kinder places. He "knew [he] had to tell the story� of these "everyday superheroes," and invited as many of them as he could to New York for interviews and to record them for a documentary he is making about a movement he calls Superheroes Anonymous. One of the Superheroes, who fixes faucets and does electrical work for people in need, said he started his work after a friend was hurt by debris that had fallen from scaffolding. “I said to myself, if we have to wait around for the city or the mayor to fix everything wrong or dangerous in this city, it’ll never get done.� Most of the Superheroes interviewed for the story were from New York; their work includes picking up trash, protecting prostitutes, and helping tourists and others who are lost.


In my experience, electronic tools and communities offer a way to make the most of my face to face time. If the details of a meeting, activity, or project can be worked out ahead of time, with community members contributing to discussions and decision making as it fits into their schedule, then "live" time can be more focused and effective than ever. These sites may be the saving grace of community (or other) organizing for those who are chronically overscheduled.

As with all technology, it's up to the community to determine whether they are going to use it as a tool, a crutch, an enhancement, or a detriment. Working for years in e-learning (for example), I saw early adopters who decided to replace face-to-face interaction with online interaction. Others wouldn't go near the technology, either because they were intimidated by it or felt that it threatened more conventional methods of discourse. Such technologies are merely tools, and like all tools, they can provide benefit in the right hands and be terribly misused in the wrong hands.

Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs