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The Anti-social Network

Facebook Needs a Face

October 16, 2012

by William Szczepanek

Faceless-facebookIf there were anything that Facebook really needed, it would be a face. While it has pictures it has no face and it has no expression, and consequently, like other texting programs, it falls far short when it comes to effective communication. Today, many people use Facebook as the primary means of communication with friends, relatives and even strangers. Facebook often fails at its intended purpose. When words become trivialized, then relationships are in jeopardy.

In normal communication facial expression and verbal expression often give more meaning to the words than the words themselves. As a young employee my boss once told me that if you had a misunderstanding with a client do not hesitate to get on a plane and visit them face-to-face. For it is only in face-to-face communication that you can get your true feelings across.

In ancient times, 50 to 100 years ago and more, most people were exceptionally adept at writing letters. They did all they could to lessen the pain of distance by writing in a manner that conveyed their deepest feelings. Love letters that may seem drippy today were painstakingly constructed to express their innermost feelings. Today, text messages, are short, dry, expressionless and would have been interpreted as a callous slap in the face by our recent ancestors. Love letters and expressions of love were private. Today expressions of love in public text often evoke the opposite meaning, i.e., who are they trying to impress, or OMG I wonder what they did wrong to have to say that in public.

 The Power of the Face

In communication, facial expression conveys the emotion behind the words. Some people are adept at lessening their facial expressions either to hide feelings or manipulate others, while other people are exceptionally adroit at reading facial expressions that last no more than a fraction of a second and can easily tell when a person is lying.

emoticonsEmoticons can help with communication, but they are not capable of displaying the minute nuances of meaning.  They cannot differentiate a suggestive stare from a flirty glance, or an angry scowl from a disappointed frown. Even the facial expressions (shown below) of Divyanka Tripathi, an Indian television actress, and their equivalent smiley face emoticons won't always convey the same feeling in all circumstances, but they are more pleasant to look at.  At some point video conferencing, (i.e., Skyping), will help, but those who want to hide will not be willing to use it and will find excuses. But, emoticons cannot represent the looks that we see on an actual face, that the expression holder is not aware that we see.

facial expression emoticons

Our Impersonal World

Yes, Facebook has brought together numerous people who would never have had the opportunity to communicate with one another. I have seen and experienced communication with people in other countries who have taken the time to communicate via messaging, particularly Asians, who still put family values first. Their messages are longer. They have more feeling. They seem very sincere.  Other cultures outside of America still value family, friends and personal communication, but Western culture is often different and the difference is spreading to other countries.

Yes, things change, time goes on and technology impacts the core of human action. But, technology has a long way to go before it can replace the simple yet complex action of a look in the eye of another.




"The social network can be just as anti-social as everyday communication. It is what we make it that will determine our future."