Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) gives his laptop a puzzled look.

“What’s Facebook?”: Belonging and Communication Online

The Double-Edged Sword

By Olivia Burgess
The Double-Edged Sword

I recently binged the Netflix show Cobra Kai, which brings the characters from the 1984 film Karate Kid into the present. My favorite character in the show is not the original hero Danny Larusso (Ralph Macchio), but the down-and-out and hopelessly politically incorrect Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka), owner of the revitalized Cobra Kai dojo. 

Lawrence is particularly fun to watch as he struggles to learn how to use computers and the internet – from turning on a computer and accessing wi-fi to navigating social media and all the unspoken rules of internet communication. If you’ve watched Cobra Kai on Netflix or YouTube (where it originally started), you’re already better versed in the internet than Johnny, who’d likely guess “Netflix” was a movie about basketball. 

You can watch clips of Johnny’s technology struggles here:

This video cuts together several scenes of Johnny failing to understand technology, including calling the pawn shop where he bought his laptop to complain, “I still can’t find the internet.” Or asking Danny matter-of-factly, “What’s Facebook?”

While exaggerated, his character is a great example of what it’s like to learn an entirely new type of writing and communication that many of us now take for granted. Social media, texting, and the internet are all woven into how we communicate in ways we don’t even consciously notice. 

This is nothing new. Take phrases like being “turned on,” “energetic,” “plugged in,” or “sparked by imagination.” Such phrases entered our vocabulary after the creation of electricity. Electricity gave us the language to express ourselves more effectively and more accurately, even if we don’t consciously “make the connection” (see what I did there?). 

Has the internet helped or hindered our communication and our ability to connect with others? In Because Internet, Gretchen McCulloch makes the case that “texting and tweeting is making us better at expressing ourselves” (57). She also offers an interesting proposition: the more skilled we get at typing and using internet technology, the better we are at expressing kindness via communication. Think of all the times you’ve used lol or an exclamation point to create a friendlier, softer tone in your communication. These kinds of techniques help make the internet more personable, “like a place where we can belong” (133). 

As Johnny becomes more capable with the internet, he grows his business, improves his friendships, and connects with an old flame that inspires him toward positive changes. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that the more he assimilates to internet culture, the more inclusive, responsible, and caring he becomes. 

What is your take on internet communication? Does texting, tweeting, and posting improve your ability to express yourself? Have you become a more capable writer through texting, tweeting, and/or through social media, or do you believe your communication skills are worse off? Can you develop friendships online that are just as valid and rewarding as those in person? Why or why not?

Have a response that you’d like to share? As Johnny Lawrence would say: “Send it to the internet!”

4 thoughts on ““What’s Facebook?”: Belonging and Communication Online

  1. Way to go Olivia!
    I think the latest tech avenues have increased my communication to others that NEVER would have happened without it. I don’t think it had detracted or taken away from other forms of contact, only added to.

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  2. I don’t think the internet is inevitably positive or that it necessarily induces kindness, but I do think that engaging in online communication helps us practice achieving a wide variety of tones via text. It reminds me of how the current generation finds periods rude, and they’re not wrong

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  3. I’m always most interested in the question of how we connect with other people online. How do we make friends? How do we maintain friendships? And do we see those friendships as equally valid to IRL ones? Personally, I find a combination of in person and online most rewarding, since that offers lots of options for engagement, but I’ve also made friends online who I rarely see in person – and a few that I have never actually met in person. The relationships might not be the same, exactly, but I still value them.

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