I follow Plinky Prompts on Twitter and while I rarely ever answer any of the prompts, there occasionally are prompts which really make me stop and think. Today’s prompts was one of these. It asked: “has social networking – Facebook, Twitter, and everything in between – actually improved your relationships?”
My main social networking site is Facebook, as I’m friends with most of my close friends there as well as college and childhood friends. I also use Twitter but my use tends to be more sporadic and more along the lines of following and observing, whereas my use of Facebook is far more proactive and engaging. The main reasons for this is that I actually know the people I’m interacting with and I don’t feel like I’m shouting into a void, as I do sometimes on Twitter.
So in my case, the question really becomes about whether Facebook as a social networking toll has improved my relationships. The main argument I often find is that it helps to maintain relationships. These aren’t the strongly bonded relationships in which you’re not very likely to fall out of contact, but the looser bonds of casual friendship and acquaintances that come and go from our lives. Whether you would count this as improving a relationship really depends on the value you place on that category of friendship. Are these people just passing through your life, or are these opportunities which you missed along the way to get to know someone better? I’m mostly of the latter viewpoint, it’s never too late to develop a friendship. Then again, I also find that many times I add someone who I kinda know and then we don’t actually really interact beyond a cursory catchup.
So beyond maintaining loose social bonds, does Facebook actually affect the stronger social bonds in my life? I have found that on occasions, it has. I have been an expat twice in my life, for a period of 6 months and 10 months. While most people’s updates are perfunctory posts about their dog, what they had for dinner or where they were drinking last night, there is an intimacy of sorts in those updates. Those are the type of things you miss when you are away from home or somebody has left for another country. It’s the small things which help stave off the feelings of homesickness and keeps your friendships going.
Facebook in my experience has rarely ever improved a friendship or caused one to develop. It works as an expression of social relationships, rather than as a creator of friendships. Forming true friendships requires a vulnerability and openness which cannot be found through status updates, likes and comments. Facebook is a mirror to your social life; it reflects the relationships you already have or are creating away from your laptop.
I know that this is just my perspective, and that there are hundreds of couples who have gotten together and friendship started as a result of dating sites, twitter and so on, so tell me your thought on social networking sites.