Cultural conservatives and grannies alike are bemoaning the end of an era. They wax on about a time when people wrote letters on parchment with fountain pens instead of posting OMG’s and WTF’s on Facebook walls. They reminisce over the days of proper courtship, when holding hands was considered forward. Many adults these days see the rise of internet communication and “hookup culture” as the undoings of society as we know it. While I love a good old fashioned postcard and swoon when I get taken out on a real date, I don’t think Facebook and hookups are going to lead civilization astray. In fact, I boldly assert that modern technology and modern “relationships” are the new frontiers of international diplomacy. Don’t worry Hillary Clinton, your job hasn’t been made redundant quite yet. The State Department is still considered necessary, as negotiating the sale of nuclear weapons is tough to do over iChat. But, if the Iranian elections demonstrated anything it was the power of social networking sites. All the major news networks discussed the influence and immediacy of Twitter and its role in political conflicts, but what interests me more are the long term effects of the social internet and diplomacy.
I love Facebook because I am a bit of a stalker and Facebook lets me indulge in my daily dose of snooping without breaking the law or incurring a restraining order. I also find it invaluable because I can keep in touch with friends abroad. I spent a few years in England and developed some truly wonderful relationships with people in the U.K. and across the world for that matter. Email makes it easier to keep in touch, but let’s be honest, how often do you really email people you don’t see on a daily basis? Sad as this may be, Facebook’s news feed keeps far away friends in my mind. One sweep through the news feed, however, and I can see what they have been up to.
I think Facebook promotes diplomacy because it keeps us aware of what is going on in other peoples’ lives around the world. Whether we are intentionally making the effort to stay in touch or educate ourselves about foreign affairs, we can’t help but see the lives of people spanning the globe in their pictures and posts. The result of this awareness might not be visible for decades, or more likely not until the first generation that used Facebook as a primary way of communicating comes to power/gets a job. But I do think that the youngsters who can’t remember getting paper invitations to events are more aware of people and world events, in general, than previous generations. Naysayers say we are isolating ourselves by hiding behind our computers and iPods. I disagree. I see the internet and especially the blogosphere as the ultimate medium for people to communicate and express themselves. As for the iPod, well, it’s not my fault the subway is so loud.
As for hookups and diplomacy? I think loosening social constraints will lead to more socializing. I recognize that the prevalence of hookup culture maybe makes it difficult to form romantic relationships, but hookups, temporary as they may be, are a form of bonding. I am not suggesting that we go out and sleep with every international guy that we can find, but that developing relationships of any kind, with people we might not meet otherwise, is a good thing. I think an increase in informal sexual relationships are a natural result of informal internet communication. Maybe everything is becoming less formal, but less formal can also mean easier to maintain and more accessible.