technology

Facebook is Not the Problem: Friendship in an Online World

When I'm interviewed by reporters about friendship, I'm often asked about my feelings about Facebook.  And then they seem surprised, and a little disappointed, when I simply answer, "I love Facebook as one of the tools we can use for our friendships."

Facebook Is a Tool, My Friends

I have read many others rant and decry how Facebook is ruining our relationships, but I don't agree.

Can Facebook ruin a relationship? Yes, I suppose so.  But I wouldn't say that it is the fault of Facebook, but rather the responsibility of the people who are using Facebook.  After an awkward face-to-face conversation with someone, we don't then declare that we should never meet a friend for dinner.  After a phone call ended with someone in tears, we don't then say that phones are the demise of friendships.  And the same is true of Facebook. It is a tool that we can use to maintain (or damage) our friendships.

To say that Facebook can be an amazing tool to help our friendships is not the same as saying that it's the perfect tool for every setting and situation and person.  But that's the responsibility of the people using the tool, not the fault of the tool. (see my link at the bottom for a post about some Facebook limitations.)

Facebook is Not to Blame for Your 5 Complaints Here are the five most common complaints I hear from people who have either closed down their accounts in protest or have refused to ever join:

  1. "Facebook is too shallow--everyone seems to only brag about the good in their lives or talk about inane things like what they ate for dinner."  Yes, that can be true.  But how is that different from most of life? Many family get-togethers, high school reunions, networking events, and dinner parties can fall prey to that trap as well. But those events are still valuable for other reasons. There is still a level of bonding and connection that can happen in this realm.  We may not be hearing all aspects of someone, but we're still learning about them.  We can't just refuse to engage with everyone unless it's really intimate and meaningful-- truthfully we can't maintain more than a handful of those relationships and we need more support in our lives than that.  Rather than blame Facebook for simply capturing what we do in real life, react the same way you would if you were at an event-- find a couple of people you want to get to know better and engage with them.  Comment on their photos, write them a personal message, ask them a follow-up question to their status update.
  2. "Facebook makes me feel bad about myself." No,that shows you your areas for growth.  A tool is not responsible for your feelings. Yes, Facebook may show us how many more people are having babies, retiring, going on vacation, or hanging out with friends, but the goal isn't to shut out everything that makes us feel insecure as much as it is to do the work of feeling secure and happy.  That is not Facebook's fault unless we only find our worth in comparing our lives to others.  And that is not the life we want.  We want to be people whose peace isn't dependent upon what someone else is or isn't doing. Rather than blame Facebook for making us feel bad, we can use it as gymnasium for our souls to practice cheering for others (give thumbs up, say congrats!), gather information about what we want more of in our lives, and get clear about how we can show up online and offline with more self-worth.
  3. "It's offensive to find out big news from friends through Facebook." While I do think there are some conversations and friendships where Facebook may not be the best choice of tool, I will say that when it comes to a friend announcing something-- that is her moment, not yours.  You feeling offended means you're making this about you when it's about her.  If she gets engaged and just wants to shout it on the Facebook rooftops-- then let her. Let her have her moment and express it however it feels best to her. That isn't about you or your friendship-- be very careful that you're not taking personally what isn't meant to be taken personally. Rather than blame Facebook, I'd suggest that we remember that the way we find out doesn't limit the way we respond. Be sure to comment and celebrate her when you see it on the wall-- she undoubtedly wants people to know.  But if your friendship is deeper than that, be the one who drops a card of congrats in the mail, leaves an enthusiastic voice mail telling her you can't wait to hear all the details, or shoots off an email to schedule a time to take her out and celebrate her.
  4. "I hate seeing my friends out doing things without me." Okay, I get it-- it's never fun to feel like the uninvited person or an outsider. But, again, getting off Facebook doesn't mean it won't happen, it just means you won't know about it.  And you're stronger than that. It's the meaning we give to those moments that hurt us.  If you believe your worth is in being her only friend, then we have bigger issues than Facebook. I always champion that the healthiest friendships are where both women have other friends.  It would be nice to get to a place where you could be cheering for her as she builds up her support system, and where you know you're doing the same.  Rather than blame Facebook, be appreciative that you can use Facebook to get ideas of fun things you want to invite people to do, be inspired by her making new friends, and do what you can to keep contributing to that relationship with her.  Giving her the space to make friends will benefit you in many ways down the road-- she'll demand less from you and soon enough she'll be able to introduce you to the people she's meeting.
  5. "I got my feelings hurt when she de-friended me."  The number of articles written about this just astounds me. In my opinion we are being way too dramatic about this de-friending option. If you are de-friended-- this isn't your new title, doesn't reflect your worth, nor does it speak to the future of the friendship you can still have with her. What it does say is that the two of you having something going on between you that isn't resolved and forgiven. Rather than reacting from your wounded ego, what can you do to help repair this friendship? Facebook is not to blame for our petty fights, disagreements, and frustrations with each other.  Every relationship has them whether we're on Facebook or not. Being de-friended is the equivalent of needing some space-- it doesn't need to be permanent. Much like the shutting of a door or the hanging up of a phone-- it simply says that we have work to do in this relationship.

So there you have my thoughts on this subject! (Not that you asked me! LOL!) I'm looking forward to your comments and reactions... (I think?!)  :)

And, if you're up for it, be a friend of GirlFriendCircles on Facebook.  It will keep you updated with friendship articles in the news, updates on my books, alerts to friendships events in your area, etc.  And we'll never de-friend you.  Promise.  :)

On a similar note: A couple of years ago I wrote a blog about the five best purposes of Facebook and the inherent limitations.

Facebook and Friendship? Is It Serving Your Needs?

With all the hype of the recent Facebook movie hitting theaters, I feel a little inspired to rant-and-rave about the famous social network.

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

    1. 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.
    2. 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.
    3. 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.
    4. 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.
    5. 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.

I love Facebook. I love twitter. I know how they can serve me. I also know how they can be limiting to the friendships I need if I am not intentional and mindful.

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! ;)