You know that girl from high school who has added every single person in your graduating class on Facebook? Much like she was in high school, she won’t actually talk to you, but boy is she nosy. By definition (according to social media, anyway), though, you are friends.
We come to expect this kind of behavior from people that we don’t know so well. We put them on limited profile and go about our business, hoping they just mind theirs.
But what happens when social media starts becoming something of a substitute for actual friendships? This is something that has bothered me for a long time.
Back in college, I was a very avid LiveJournaler. I posted just about every day, often more than once. I wrote about my life and what I was doing. It’s kind of cool because now I can go back and relive some of those fun times, but there’s a downside.
I’d see people out somewhere or I’d catch up with friends and we’d get to talking about life. I’d ask about theirs and then when I’d start to tell them what I’d been up to, they’d say stuff like, “Oh yeah. I saw that on your LJ.”
After college, I stopped blogging so regularly about what was going on in my life. I felt like I had nothing to contribute when I was interacting with friends who were reading it. I quit the LJ on my 25th birthday and haven’t blogged much about the comings and goings of my personal life since then.
Currently, I’m in a position where nearly all of my friends live several hours away from me. I talk to some on the phone, even though I’m not a big phone talker. Others I have to talk to via IM or email. Text messages are okay for a while, but they’re not really conversations. They’re like Tweets. Speaking of which, the worst is when I only talk to people closest to me through Facebook or Twitter. The other option, though, is letting those friendships die. 100% digital interaction is not the way I’d choose it to be, but it’s the lesser of two evils.
So social media has become something of a lifeline for me. It’s how I stay connected with my friends. I’ve actually had people say to me on several occasions, “I feel like I know you so much better now. I know so much more about your life through Facebook.” That’s good and bad at the same time.
The more I think about this, the bigger problem I have with it fundamentally. And I realize the problem isn’t new.
I don’t want social media to replace my friendships.
What do I mean by that? I don’t want my friends to jump on my Facebook page and read what I’ve been up to and have that be enough. So in addition to general frustration with Facebook’s complete lack of privacy lately, as well as numerous other woes I’ve suddenly developed with the site, this urge to keep to myself a bit more has had me drastically reducing my Facebook usage. I’ve posted some things, but not enough to give people a full picture of my life anymore.
I tweet a lot, but I don’t want my friends to know so much there that they don’t ask.
Part of this problem is my own, and I’ll admit that. Because I so freely shared information with people I trust, I made it so that they never really had to interact with me in anyway.
But I want them to. I want my friends to have a reason to call me up or hang out with me, at the very least to text or IM me and ask me what I’ve been up to, how I’ve been doing, how things are going.
Social media will never take the place of actual relationships with people. It will never replace human interaction, the ability to see someone, touch them, hear their voice — all things that are crucial to conveying meaning. There is no body language to read with social media. Something is lost in translation. It’s flat. I love it, but it’s missing a crucial element.
It should be noted that there are different levels of relationships here. We all have those acquaintances on Facebook of whom we are peripherally aware. Most of us probably glance at those updates, internalize them, and move on. I’m not talking about them. I’m talking about your inner circle. Your closest, best friends. Even your family.
Social media should not become a substitute for one-on-one interaction. You shouldn’t think that just because you read someone’s status updates, tweets, blogs, Foursquare check-ins, and so forth that you know what’s going on in that person’s life. You shouldn’t assume that just because they can read that stuff about you that they know anything about yours. None of that is a friendship. It’s all cold and impersonal.
Commenting on my Facebook status isn’t the same as talking to me. Replying to my tweets isn’t the same as talking to me. Sending me a few responding text messages isn’t the same as talking to me.
So today, as you’re pecking away at your keyboard and scrolling down through your news feed, consider actually talking to someone instead. Many things are better when digital, but relationships of any kind are not one of them. Put in the effort.