Recent conversations about friendship in adulthood have caused me to think a lot more critically about social media. Society’s scapegoat, social media seems to be the source of most of our problems. Instagram is why we are vain, Twitter is why we have short attention spans and Facebook is why we don’t connect with friends beyond out computer screen. I pondered this all weekend, and it just seemed like too simple of an answer. Social media has already proven to have a huge effect on us that isn’t always negative. When it comes to connection, we need to do more than point fingers. We need to ask, what is it about social media like Facebook that causes disconnect?
It seems to me that, among all the social media I listed, Facebook is really the only one that involves people I see in real life. In fact, Facebook is unique in that most people will only befriend people they know. While I may follow some of those same people on other social media platforms, I have no qualms about following complete strangers outside of Facebook. As such, when it comes to the effects of social media on how we make and maintain friendships, Facebook seems to be the obvious target of discussion.
Making friends in adulthood has always been hard. Through my own blogging experience, I’ve found most people made friends at work or through their neighbors. What happens if you simply can’t connect on an intimate enough of a level with coworkers or if you move so frequently that you never get the chance to know your neighbors?
This issue is similar to the problem of single people who are looking for a relationship. Those are pretty limited options for finding friends or lovers. No wonder online dating took off. MeetUp.com, a social site for meeting friends in real life, has done wonders for my friendship needs. I take this as a sign that social media, as a whole, is not the enemy of friendship. In fact, I wonder if the problem has to do with how the world revolves around Facebook.
Many of my high school friends have moved away from the small Iowa town I grew up in. Most of my college friends have moved away to new universities or jobs. I don’t live close to the handful that are still in that college town as I have also moved away. How do I stay up to date on the lives of these friends?
When I was getting ready to study abroad, I helped my parents set up a Facebook account so they could see my adventures. My father hated the very concept, grumbling about how, if he wanted to talk to someone, he’d call them. Yet, as soon as he had made an account, an old friend found him and started to chat over Facebook messenger. My father was delighted to hear from someone who he hadn’t contacted for a long while. Why did this person choose Facebook to reach out to my father?
All of these questions have the same answer: Facebook. Facebook makes it easier to reach out to people. You can stay in pseudo contact with them by reading their profile and you can send a message without interrupting your day. I’m sure most Facebook users have dabbed in the delicate art of Facebook stalking. Guilty of it myself, it is a great way to keep up with friends without actually contacting them. Other actions, like sending a post card or calling someone on the phone, take more effort and more time. As we like to gravitate toward the easiest methods, is it any wonder people have chosen Facebook over other methods of communication?
In reality, calling these methods ‘communication’ is flawed. The action of Facebook stalking involves one person. The other has no idea someone is reading their profile. They have no way of knowing you are interested in their life. With a little more effort, you can choose to send a message on Facebook, an action so minimal it can be done while at work, making dinner or sitting on the toilet. Unlike a phone conversation, messenger conversations are easy to ignore or quickly abandon if something more pressing demands your attention.
Facebook is great, but, more than any other social media platform, it has an uncanny ability to create the illusion of socialization without actual communication. The funny thing is, we know it’s an illusion. I’ll be the first to admit I have Facebook stalked someone specifically because I didn’t want to call them (due to a falling out). There are people out there with whom we don’t want to communicate but who we are still curious about. What better place than Facebook to check in on them?
All weekend, I wondered about the popularity of Facebook and whether people are feeling disconnected because they unintentionally bought into the illusion of communication on Facebook. Do people move away from college and then spend months only communicating with old friends on Facebook? Perhaps making friends is not any more easier or harder than it once was. Maybe the real difference is that social media has made it easier to spend time involved with old friends, which takes away from time we should be spending getting to know our new neighbors.