The other day I was at Starbucks and a barista with whom I am Facebook friends asked me if I attended a certain church in town. Puzzled, I answered no. “Well, ” she said, “I noticed the pastor is our mutual friend.” Hmm.
Here’s the problem: A) I don’t know the guy; B) I had no idea he was the pastor of this church; C) I have no recollection of adding him or accepting his friend request. In truth, he is not even remotely my friend.
In her article “This is Your Friendship on Facebook,” Meredith Whitmore explores the phenomenon of reconnecting with hundreds of “friends” from your past only to end up sharing the mundane details of your life. The main problem with this, she says, is that online connections may actually threaten in-person friendships.
Isn’t it possible that as a result of reading legions of people’s conversations, updates and groupthink exercises like “25 Things About Me,” social networking is actually distracting us from deep friendship as it siphons us into superficiality—which spills into even our inner circle of “two true confidants”?
I can’t count the times, for instance, that I’ve been in a room with various friends who are poring over smartphones to check Facebook or e-mail instead of focusing on the individuals present. Not to mention the fact that when anyone spends an hour or two reading random information about people they never see, they’re neglecting those they could be with personally.
Another question is whether online interactions are profitable. Whitmore asks: Are statuses a way to show off, vent, stir up trouble? Sometimes. From my experience, I think negatively-motivated status reports are rare — if anything statuses seem to be a cry for human interaction. And there’s the point. We’re designed for in-person interaction with others and Facebook is a very poor replacement for that. I’ve said it before, but face time is far more valuable than Facebook. Wouldn’t you agree?