Sailaja N. Joshi

Betty White: Funny Gal, Bad Ass Grandma & Anthropologist Extraordinaire

In Erwing Goffman, Presentation of Self on May 10, 2010 at 2:36 pm

This weekend, I like many other people stayed up past my bedtime to watch the amazing Betty White perform on SNL. Now, I’ve always loved Betty White and was truly amazed by her comedic genius, her general bad-ass-ness and well, astounding anthropological skills.

In listening to Miss White’s opening monologue, I thought she was apt to point out how Facebook has turned some lame and boring pastimes (re: looking at vacation photographs) into well, a wonderful way to procrastinate and reconnect. Who would have thought that a virtual book could help reconnect millions of people and simultaneously make them less productive.

Facebook has in effect completely changed the way in which we create and develop our social circles. In addition to making vacation pictures now a means of procrastination, Facebook has created a transparent environment in which we present ourselves to the world. With each status update and change in profile picture, we are changing the way in which our friends, and the world view us.

While Facebook is a fascinating place in which to study the world we live in, I can’t help feeling a bit saddened by its existence. Sure, its nice that I can connect with my four-month-old niece in Arizona but it wouldn’t be even nicer if I could see her in person?  Yet, somehow I feel connected with her because Facebook has made it ok to forgo human-to-human interaction for human-to-Facebook Profile interaction.

How we create our social bonds is an engrained part of our socialization.  I can’t help but wonder how my children are going to interact in this age of digital relationships. Will they only know their cousins through Facebook? Will family get-togethers now be conducted via webcam? Or will this age of hyper-digital relationships give way to an age in which we go back to traditional ideas of relationship and see people in (gasp) person?

There are many movements that indicate our society (or some members) is heading towards the path of more traditional values and ways of communicating. Take a look at sites such as Etsy and the number of CSAs that have popped up over the past two years. People are looking for handcrafted goods because they are looking to create real, human relationships once again.

So while venture capitalists and social media specialists are trying to anticipate the next “Facebook” I think they should take a moment and look at what people are really doing and how they are really interacting.  Because, even if there is a new Facebook out there, will anyone join it if they’ve gone back to writing letters?

  1. “Take a look at sites such as Etsy and the number of CSAs that have popped up over the past two years. People are looking for handcrafted goods because they are looking to create real, human relationships once again.”

    I think your two examples defeat your argument. Sure, etsy is a purveyor in handcrafted goods, but it is still an online marketplace. How does that foster human relationships once again? Sure, you have to talk to a vendor (sometimes), but really, it’s not very different than amazon. It’s on a smaller scale, with a different target, but based on the same principle. As for CSAs, the same argument can be made. I don’t think human relationships are propagated any further by the participation in CSA farming at all; if such were the case then local drop off spots and delivery service would not be an option. Customers would be forced to go to their member farms and interact with those that are farming their crops. THAT would be furthering human interaction.

    I think the thesis that these two examples propounds is entirely contrary to what the stated proposition is. But that’s just me. Interesting read, at any rate.

    • Hi Jamaal-

      Thanks for stopping by! Perhaps you are right, the interaction on Etsy is the same as w/ Amazon, just more ‘organic’ in the sense that you are buying from a person rather than a large company. In that sense, I think Etsy is helping us come back to local wares and traditional ideas (ie. buying locally) versus buying from big business.

      I do think that CSAs still keep and develop human and local relationships. There is a sense of ownership in your food now because it is local and well, you feel as though you are part of the cycle. Though, I suppose in both situations there is no real norm, just an ‘ideal’ norm.

      Love your comment and look forward to you stopping by more often!


  2. Also think this article from May 2 SundayStyles/NYT ( has something important to say about human interaction: our children are losing the ability to relate to each other as humans because of their reliance on technology. It’s not a choice in their case – the ‘digital natives’ have been raised to relate to each other in quite impersonal ways via technology. When moms have to TEXT their kids in the next room to get them to go to sleep…it’s obvious (and scary) that we’re losing important aspects of our human experience.

  3. I think the next thing we need to look at is how to integrate something like facebook (i.e. social media) into meaningful human interaction that move beyond the internet interaction. how do we use these tools to enhance our personal relationships? b/c i don’t believe that wiping it out will do anything…

    good thoughts and great website! i’m enjoying it all!

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