Today I read this article about how social networking sites are bad for your health. In reflecting on the article, I was reminded of Radiolab’s Pop Music episode. I came up with a theory about the social networking sites: people love them because they want to go home.
Whenever I hear conversations about networking sites, whether it’s MySpace, Facebook, or some other variation, it seems that two points always come up. First, everyone seems to agree that they spend too much time on the site. Then, someone explains (defends?) that they think it’s great because it helped them get in touch with people they’ve lost touch with due to distance and/or time. I think that, for many people, that’s the real appeal. They get to see what all the people they’ve lost contact with are up to. It satisfies a deep curiosity about old schoolmates and stirs up old memories and feelings about their childhood, their college days, their old haunts.
In their Pop Music episode, Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich discuss the ability of music to extend beyond the borders of the nation where it is created. They interview Columbia University musicologist Aaron A. Fox, who describes how 40,000 Zimbabweans cram into a stadium to see a Don Williams concert. Professor Fox explains that, in his research, he learned that people love country music because of its “story”, which he describes as a migration story, one of sadness, regret, loneliness. According to Fox, the first country hit appeared in 1927, which was when the U.S. Census first showed that there were more Americans living in urban areas than there were in the country: “Country music is born when the country becomes a nostalgic idea.” The suggestion, then, is that people all over the world love country music because they can hear that nostalgia and longing in the music, and they can identify with it.
Now, bear with me. I know that this may seem like a stretch, but I think that both country music and social networking sites really appeal to that same dynamic: missing home, wanting to reconnect to a place that’s gone, longing for simpler times, etc. While this would perhaps not be true for younger online networkers, such as those currently in high school, it seems like it is certainly a part of the story for many of those who are beyond college years.