Is Facebook bringing us together or moving us apart?

May 17, 2012 

A recent article in The Atlantic caught Wayne's eye. The headline: "Is Facebook making us lonely?" The piece posits that human connections are "broader but shallower," that social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter have created a world where we have less actual society, fewer face-to-face contacts and "a miraculous fusion of distance with intimacy."

"The more connected we are, the lonelier we become," writes author Stephen Marche.

Is Facebook making us lonely? Or bringing us closer together?

Wanda says,

My family had a collective online meltdown recently when my Seattle-based sister-in-law said she was closing her Facebook account. Relatives instantly lamented her departure, demanded answers and pleaded with her to stay. Offline, I asked about her reasoning. Her response: "Because Facebook makes me sad, jealous, angry in turns, takes up too much time, allows me to feel like I have a lot of friends when really that's a lie. I also feel like it's made me and those who are my friends/family very lazy about how we interact. I need real people in my life. Real friends."

Wayne says,

Let me get this straight, Wanda: You literally talked to your sister-in-law instead of instant messaging her? You invested in a quality conversation instead of a dozen emails or text exchanges? How inconvenient!

Really, that interaction nails her point: dozens of posts and likes and comments and "friendship" acceptances don't carry the weight of one genuine, real-life conversation. We have become lazy, as a society and as friends. Good for your sister-in-law for drawing a line in the cyber-sand and demanding more from the real friends in her life.

That said, as much as I'd love to join her in Occupy Friendship, a social online presence is seemingly mandatory to survive in this modern landscape: keeping up with events, work, family afar and yes, even local friendships.

Any advice, Wanda, on maintaining a social presence without losing the true meaning of friendship or your soul?

Wanda says,

It's so true -- online inhabitation feels required. When the gang gathers, the few who aren't on Facebook inevitably seem behind. The relentless stream of status updates and photo postings keeps us vicariously entwined and there's at least a vague awareness of each other's lives. Yet it can't replace the authenticity of face-to-face.

Browsing family members photo albums keeps us connected but lacks the warmth of a parent's voice. Mild cyber stalking of a love interest can reveal hobbies and history but can't replace layered, thoughtful conversation. Coy online flirting has its perks, but you can't make out with a winking emoticon.

Sending a text, posting on someone's wall or "liking" a photo is easy -- even passive. Getting a phone call or meeting up with someone you actually are into is when butterflies come in. Amid today's flurry of cyber-flirting, this more intimate, personal effort sets a suitor apart from the pack. Wouldn't you agree, Wayne?

Wayne says,

I disagree, Wanda -- you can make out with an emoticon! It isn't as much fun as human smooching, but it works if that's all you've got on a Friday night.

I agree that, like lips over emoticons, face-to-face beats Facebook and real friends trump Friendster every time. But there are positives and, in some cases, necessitates to maintaining a social networking presence online. I think it's time we all look at ourselves in the monitor and ask if we are using these new communication tools to strengthen our relationships or simply, passively maintain them. If you answer the latter, then it's time to power off and friendship on.

Wanda and Wayne ask readers: Is social media the best thing to happen to friendships or the end of civilization as we know it? Email us at wanda@adn.com

Is Facebook bringing us together or moving us apart?

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