Thursday, September 30, 2010

Social Networking: A Blessing Or A Curse?



I joined Facebook about a year ago and have really enjoyed reconnecting with old friends from the past. It’s great to see how their lives have turned out, what they do for a living, what their families look like, etc. In some cases I’ve even learned things about people (through reading their profiles) that I never knew about them when we were friends in real life. Had I known these things back then perhaps our relationships might have even turned out differently. If you think about it in these terms Facebook actually brings you closer to the people from your past. What concerns me is Facebook’s (and other social networking sites’) impact on the present. Just the other day it struck me that perhaps I’ve started to enjoy my “Facebook friends” even more than my real life friends. A disturbing sentiment yes, but it makes perfect sense if you really think about it. Consider how low maintenance your Facebook friends are compared to their real life counterparts. You never need to call them on the phone, or send them an e-mail, or shoot them a text to see how they’re doing. A simple “like” in response to their status update and you’ve made their day. You never need to give them a ride to the airport, or help them move, or collect their mail while they’re out of town. Jot a quick Happy Birthday message on their wall once a year and that’s proof enough how much you care. In the Facebook world you can go for weeks or even months without ever even acknowledging someone and your “friendship” is as strong as ever. And what about those instances where the drama gets to be too much or a friendship starts to feel like more trouble than it’s worth? Maybe it’s even as simple as somebody’s posting too much or sharing too many strong opinions about religion and politics. Hit the “unfriend” button and poof – problem solved. All the benefits of a real friendship with none of the downside - like having a pet that you never need to feed or clean up after. Those geniuses at Facebook actually figured out a way to take reality and make it better. Or did they?

For all of its many benefits social networking is killing the human connection. Why sit face to face and converse live with one person at a time when you can sit behind a computer monitor in your pajamas and communicate simultaneously with the masses via mouse clicks, status updates, tweets, etc? Why put yourself out there in the flesh, flaws exposed, when you can use technology to manipulate how other people see you? Why even bother to deal with the ugliness of reality at all when you can lead a relatively satisfying, ugly-free cyber-life instead? I think the answer to these questions depends on the answer to a larger question. What are you looking for in the relationships in your life? If you really want to experience other people and get to know their true essence there’s no substitute for spending time with them face to face, conversing with them over a cup of coffee or a cocktail, smiling at them and looking them straight in the eyes, or giving them a hug and feeling their warmth. When you rely on social networking for communication you never get more than a sanitized, pseudo-reality version of people, which in most cases is probably for the best. Just imagine all the bad things that could happen if your Facebook world suddenly collided with your real life world? There’s probably a good reason you lost touch with most of those people in the first place. On the flip side if someone is truly important to you or truly worth getting to know better, be sure to make time for them in the real world. At the end of the day your life will be made up of a series of moments and the people you shared them with. Choose those people carefully and once chosen be sure to invest personally in the relationships. Giving this advice is in no way an inference that I’m the greatest friend out there (I’m not) and it certainly doesn’t mean I’m going to shut down my Facebook account any time soon (that’s crazy talk). Writing stuff down is simply a cheaper form of therapy and it sometimes helps to keep me on track. In summary (I know - I’m starting to sound like Dr. Phil - I'll shut up soon) I think social networking can be a good thing but only in small doses and only if it doesn’t take away from the time and effort you put into your real life relationships.

Who knew I could write an entire post without sarcasm, cynicism, or profanity? Fuckin’ A.

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