In media interviews I am almost always asked what I, a huge proponent of face-to-face friendships, think about all the social networks. And, without fail, I express that I a fan. I'm not out there hating on them-- in fact I use them all in my own life and business. They all serve fabulous purposes from reconnecting with old friends (my next-door neighborhood friend from when I was 6-10 years old just found me last week!), networking with possible contacts and enabling us to feel more connected to others by getting glimpses of their lives. However, let me clarify to say that just because they serve some of your relational purposes well, doesn't mean they serve all your relational purposes well.
I read one blog recently where the author seemed shocked that research reveals that most of us have 1/3 less friends that we used to twenty years ago. Her question was "with all this technology, how is that possible?" And therein lies the central problem-- socializing isn't the same as developing friendships that matter.
Five Purposes of Social Media that Could Limit Meaningful Friendships
- The Purpose of Establishing Outweighs the Developing. I find that social networks serve the two ends of my friendship spectrum pretty well-- they help me establish connections with people who might interest me and they help me stay in touch with the people who already matter to me. However, no social platform takes the former and turns them into the latter. Your time online might help establish commonalities with others but it doesn't develop the friendship into something meaningful without your intention. Your interest can increase because of what you read about them, but again, that doesn't make a friendship. At some point you have to intentionally foster the growth on your own as no amount of status updates will turn a contact into a friendship.
- The Purpose of Quantity Outweighs Quality. Our energy is automatically spread out over many people rather than focused on the few. The nature of social networking encourages growing your follower list. And for networking and socializing purposes-- that's perfect. However, let's recognize that if deep and meaningful friendships are lacking in your life then it's possible you're pouring your daily "one-hour of relational energy" into responding to 20 contacts for 3 minutes each rather than bonding with one person for the full hour. I've said it before, but some of the loneliest women happen to also be the busiest and most networked women. They mistakenly try to stay in touch with everyone and end up not close to anyone. It's easy to feel connected without ever connecting.
- The Purpose of Convenient Outweighs Connection. With most of us feeling tired after work, the idea of spending an hour reading status updates online in our pajamas takes much less energy then getting a drink with a possible friend on the way home. And it makes sense since we can feel like we're connecting with everyone without actually having to be "on" and hold up a conversation. Unfortunately, while you may now know what all your friends are doing back home-- you didn't really have any bonding experience that developed your trust in each other which is essential for intimacy to occur. You may feel updated, but it's doubtful that it felt meaningful. You may feel you know something about them, but that's not the same as knowing them. It was easy and convenient but doesn't fill the gap for real mutual connection.
- The Purpose of Bragging Outweighs Bonding.You can post an update about the promotion you got, but that's different from toasting it with a local friend. And vice-verse, knowing what they did over the weekend isn't the same as now feeling close enough to them to spend this next weekend hanging out together. We may become more interested in each other after following our updates, but if it doesn't turn into making new memories together than you're simply bragging about parallel and separate lives but not merging the two together. Bonding takes more than interest-- at some point, it simply comes down to time together. A bond happens when you create a memory together, not simply brag about two separate memories.
- The Purpose of Interesting Outweighs Intimacy .Our status updates range from the inane (what I just ate for lunch) to the interesting (whatever big, unique thing we want to wow everyone with), without always capturing the actual moments that matter. And for the record, it's not Facebook and twitter's fault-- our conversations in real life can focus just as easily on the boring, small talk, the celebrity gossip and the big stories that we hope will make everyone else jealous. But, certainly, the social network heightens the lack of real sharing, focusing more on announcements than conversation. We can forget that just because everyone knows that you have cute kids-- it doesn't mean they know what it feels like to be a stay-at-home mom, the actual fears you have about parenting, the longings you hold for your kids and the questions you are processing about your own identity. Intimacy requires vulnerability which social networks don't easily facilitate.
The value of social networks: the ability to Establish connections with large Quantities of people in a Convenient way to Brag about our lives and be exposed to Interesting things with people in our network, is no small thing!
However, if Developing relationships with a Quality Few where the focus is on real Connection that creates Bonding and leads to Intimacy then by all means be intentional about where you spend your time, how you engage and what you can do to make sure that social networking provides you the best it can offer without it costing you what you truly are craving.
Now... off to post this onto Facebook! ;)