How Do You Value Relationships? How Does Facebook?

While searching for a family heirloom my mom came across her mom’s high school autograph book. Most of the inscriptions are from 1881 and in verse. It’s a beautifully tooled leather booklet. Gives the autographs some weight, some feeling. It was fun leafing through.

Most of the inscriptions are in verse. My mother tells me that her father and mother often traded poetic notes with each other and it looks like the practice was widespread, at least in this neck of the woods. While I’m sure many of the verses were used multiple times among many friends, each page provides a touch of personality — a small window into the lives of people I never knew. It felt very personal.

“My friends in my album I ask you to write,
but to tear out the leaves I deem impolite.    A. Maiers”

Annie had a sense of humor. As did Jeannie:

“To Anne,
Around went the album
To me it came,
For my contribution,
So here goes my name. ”
Jeannie Haickey

There are other inscriptions more personal and heartfelt, but unfortunately they are not in the mood to scan for now. They have faded and are difficult to read. But they are there. The afternoon was spent talking about memories with the autograph book and a few photos to inspire the conversation. I learned things I never knew about my grandmother.

Which got me to thinking about Facebook. Today’s version of the autograph album, a complete electronic rolodex of our network of acquaintances and friends.

  • Spelling – optional.
  • Punctuation and capitalization – optional.
  • Thoughtfulness – optional.
  • Even words – optional.

Now I’m a latecomer to Facebook.  I actually joined to help my kid’s high school booster group manage publicity. But quickly I discovered some old, lost friends. Facebook is my living autograph book. A place where connections are made. But how long lasting are the memories here. Will great, great, grandchildren ever dig old Facebook files out of a trunk and feel connected to someone they hardly new?

It doesn’t feel that way.

And now there is a kerfuffle as Facebook works to generate revenue using the very contacts it helped me connect with. I don’t begrudge them the cash. They brought value by connecting me easily with old friends. But I’m a little irritated with their desire to track my steps through every website and web tool I visit. It’s as if they somehow believe that friends share every detail of their lives with no edits or consideration.

That’s not poetry. That’s personal spam.

The glimpse of life I gained through my grandmother’s high school autograph book reminds me of how at one time individuals were maybe a tad more thoughtful about how they wished to be remembered. Maybe even a bit more thoughtful about how they presented themselves. Could our ability to communicate easily be weakening the value we put on communication?

The ability to connect human beings together in memorable, long lasting ways is probably one of the most powerful selling points any business can hope to have. Facebook caught lightning in a bottle, but now seems ready to tip the balance from valued tool to overly greedy spy. MySpace went this route. Some are not amused. Taylor Davidson provides an interesting look at why we should care about the business model behind the services we use. Just because they are free doesn’t mean they are without cost.

Communication continues to evolve. From private letters on stationery to sentiment presented on greeting cards. From phone calls to email to texting.

As everything goes digital it would be a neat trick to find a way to return the private, personal, long-lasting feel of a letter (or autograph book) while maintaining the convenience of Web 2.0 interaction. Things are being lost in our digital age. A key aspect of looking for opportunity is to mine the past for value, not to recreate history, but discover ideas primed for updating.

Of course I doubt my grandmother ever gave a thought to the idea that her descendants would be leafing through her old autograph book.  It was kept as a personal keepsake, her own memories. Which make it even more precious to us.

Solutions to the digital keepsake dilemma anyone? Let the competition begin.

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26 Responses to How Do You Value Relationships? How Does Facebook?

  1. Brad Shorr says:

    Fred, You’ve got a wonderful perspective on the problem. (I’m blogging on the same topic later this week, from a slightly different slant.)

    “As everything goes digital it would be a neat trick to find a way to return the private, personal, long-lasting feel of a letter (or autograph book) while maintaining the convenience of Web 2.0 interaction.”

    Well stated! A part of the solution is to give users control over their information. Without that, people are going to be hesitant to share and relieved when personal data disappears.

    I’m not sure change will come quickly or easily. Even though Facebook is the whipping boy of the hour – with plenty of justification – Google is arguably a worse offender, collecting personal search data and re-purposing it for who knows what.

    Giving individuals control of this information destroys billion-dollar business models. That’s not going to happen for the sake of nostalgia or high minded principles. The only way I see things changing is if somebody comes up with a better business model, one that better combines respect for privacy with profitability, or if enough people walk away from Google or Facebook to force those platforms to change or go under.

    Either or both of those things could happen. But a lot more people are going to have to get a lot more agitated to make it happen sooner rather than later. Right now, my sense is there’s a vocal minority concerned about privacy rights, with the majority content to overlook these issues and enjoy the benefits of these communication platforms.
    .-= Brad Shorr´s last blog ..Google Goes Universal =-.

    • The privacy and control issues we all face with the advent of massive databases are probably the next big political issue waiting in the wings. Both our personal control of data that is being distributed about us as well as limitations on all organizations as to the legal uses of that data. Unfortunately things will probably simmer till either the government or one of our new information age friends make a huge mistake.

  2. Call me inept: I’d love to give this a big thumb’s up!
    My mother joined Facebook recently–relatives for friends can be sticky–and fussed about not knowing how to access a spell-checking app. (She was in her youth a spelling bee champion.)
    Read your feed, Mom, I said. “How cn I sp U? Let M+E 1+1 teh weighs.

  3. Bill Welter says:

    Fred,
    Great post — your comment about “personal spam” struck a chord with me. There is a lot “out there” but only a small percentage is really worth reading.
    Keep up the good work.

  4. Kay Plantes says:

    Very insightful, Fred. I felt the same way when I read about both Twitter and Facebook trying to monetize their space. Makes me love Wikopedia even more. I also felt anger when Apple announced that APS will come with advertising. Value is benefits less perceived costs. All three companies are reducing value by increasing the perceived costs of their offering.
    .-= Kay Plantes´s last blog ..Saving Newspapers Before Google Rescues The Day =-.

    • Hi Kay, The inclusion of ads in apps had started – but what I had run into tended to be buggy. I don’t mind advertising too much as long as I know before hand what the deal is going to be. Make me pay for something and then surprise me with sponsored messages and I get a bit grumpy.

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  6. Karen Swim says:

    Fred, thank you for the extremely insightful view on communications but also for the sweet memories of the past. My generation had autograph books too in addition to yearbooks. For me personally, digital communication has served to make me more thoughtful in my personal communications. My emails, cards and letters to friends allow me time to really think and share not always afforded by the content hungry, fast pace of digital. Yet, in every medium, I stay true to my values, and who I am with the realization that every action, and word reflects who I am and what I believe.
    .-= Karen Swim´s last blog ..Will Your Story Be Written? =-.

    • Hi Karen, Having grown up in the world of Hallmark I’m glad to hear you mention that cards are still one of the ways you communicate 🙂 . Overall I’m more in touch with friends and family than I have been in years and that is specifically because of how easy it is to email and facebook. I love your final sentence.

  7. Andrew says:

    Fred,

    There is no doubt that some people do write poorly on these platforms. To some extent, this is disappointing – especially when poor writing and grammar becomes the norm and the language is ‘cheapened’ as a result.

    That said, social media platforms do also provide an outlet for creative expression (though this is probably more the case with blogs than Facebook in particular) I personally find it pleasing to see that whilst some blogs, for instance, are full of rants, others, who see writing as an art-form and take it more seriously, use the medium to display their talents in poetry, pictures or even songs.
    .-= Andrew´s last blog ..Defending the value of AGMs in Australia =-.

    • Hi Andrew,

      I’m getting the picture that maybe more communication is better than less even when that means we live with typos and grammatical goofs. I’m tending to agree, but wistful I remain.

  8. J.D. Meier says:

    After I listened to some interviews with folks like Stephen Covey and John Wooden, I was amazed by how much of a gap there is between text and voice. With their voice, their passion and conviction told a very different story than text ever could.

    I think there will always be a glass-ceiling with digital mediums, but I value the friction-free or low-friction doors they open up.
    .-= J.D. Meier´s last blog ..Why We Make Bad Decisions – Errors in Odds and Errors in Value =-.

    • J.D. – Great point on the differences between voice and text. As it gets easier for people to speak their thoughts we may end up with more passion overall. The continued decline of text after a brief moment of Web 2.0 revival? Your point on low-friction is well taken.

  9. I think Alan Patrick nails the question “How does Facebook value relationships?” -> http://broadstuff.com/archives/2211-Fun-with-Facebook-and-Privacy-game-theory.html

    Facebook’s desire to track the personal interactions that form our relationships is pretty simple: build a business that makes money based on tracking and structuring it all. I think we forget that 🙂

    People are rarely thoughtful about the long-term impact of their actions. Or put a different way, it’s difficult for us to fully value the cost and benefits of our actions. We overvalue and undervalue, and we make mistakes. We always have.

    What’s different is our ability to observe, comment on and share the actions of many more people, easier, quicker, etc. The usual equations for the costs and benefits have changed.

    They always change, btw.
    .-= Taylor Davidson´s last blog ..Why do we share? =-.

    • Ha! Wouldn’t be surprised if that was a Facebook first draft.

      There’s no question that the cost benefits are changing. I think it’s the lack of awareness of what the equations are and the one sided power relationship that has developed that ends up bothering me the most. We see this in so many aspects of our lives “You agree to these terms and we can change them anytime we want.” With credit, with data, with regulation. I feel there will be a tipping point.

  10. Paul C says:

    Facebook caught lightning in a bottle and then compromised the fire. I like that image. Yes, how do you capture the feel of a hand written letter within the Web 2.0 world? Blogging may be more and more empowering for some. I have seen some dynamic interaction.
    .-= Paul C´s last blog ..Growing into Vitality =-.

    • Absolutely. And new connections. Although I’m not sure what’s happening isn’t more like Franklin and his press. Of course he would have had trouble given his penchant for penning letters under pen-names.

  11. This is what I hate about FB, no privacy by default, no privacy encouraged.

    It’s all about advertising. Private profiles are bad for ad revenue, since no one sees them. Bad for FB valuation.

    You didn’t think the free ride would last forever, did you?

  12. Ballyhoo says:

    I use an alias on Facebook because it’s the only social network I’ve managed to keep clean with only people I know *and* like. Random people, even “”friends”” searching for me, can’t find me unless I go looking for them or we happen to have a mutual friend and I’m recognized.

    Twitter, I’m more open with my identity, but I’m much less open with personal thoughts. It’s like the difference between throwing a small dinner party with just friends, and going to baseball game with 50,000 other people. Both are fun.

    • I would have thought you would have done the reverse. Be more open on Facebook and hidden on twitter. Twitter seems to require a much lower level of intimacy.

  13. Fred,
    Great post — your comment about “personal spam” struck a chord with me. There is a lot “out there” but only a small percentage is really worth reading.
    Keep up the good work.