Is Social Media Ruining Your Friendships?

by Daisy on January 27, 2011

in Real Life, Tech

I recently found out some big news about a friend and while I sat digesting the information I wasn’t sure if my surprise stemmed from the announcement…or the fact that I’d read it on Facebook and not in a private e-mail or voicemail.

It was the kind of thing I wanted to immediately respond to, but joining the throngs of people commenting about it on the status update made me feel like my response was cheap and less heartfelt than a face-to-face discussion. Engagements and divorce are now announced to the world on blogs, Facebook and Twitter, being blasted out instantaneously for everyone to see and discuss.

When I have friends nearing their due date, I find myself checking Facebook instead of my voicemail or text messages for baby news.

There is also the inevitable friendship dynamic with my “Internet friends” who I talk to all the time by virtue of the kind of friendship we have—Internet friends are always online (and you probably are too) which means you can catch up all the time with Twitter, Skype, blog posts, blog comments, e-mail, Gchat, Facebook, Facebook chat and any other system you prefer. However, these conversations via social media are often in piece-meal, with questions and thoughts left hanging for an hour while someone gets up to get a cup of coffee or join a conference call or feed their child.

In fact, with social media you might find yourself wondering where your old pals are, the ones you went to high school with or know from a past job, and then you realize that reaching out beyond social media suddenly makes a friendship more difficult, more time consuming. You have to put more effort forward, and without the instant gratification of social media you might feel as though those friendships are less fulfilling.

Social media is about connection, and with it you can do it all instantly. Like a hot bite of comfort food, it can soothe your soul and make you feel heard with just a few keystrokes. Feeling sad? Tweet about it and your online friends pop up with advice and jokes. Need help with an upcoming DIY project? Your online friends will have plenty of opinions if you post your questions on your blog.

That said, if you are seeking some comfort or advice, and you are only turning to social media, are you really getting the best answer or response? What about your face-to-face friendships? And what about the things that shouldn’t be heard instantaneously? Should we find out about babies and engagements and divorces from an RSS feed or status update—or are those things better told one-on-one, privately, behind closed doors and face-to-face? I had a friend who recently began telling friends she was pregnant, and in an effort to stem the social media response, quietly closed her Facebook wall for a few weeks while she got the information out, just to make sure no one sent her congratultions before everyone knew—from her.

Finally, isn’t there something to be said about relationships that are more fulfilling because they require time and nurturing? There is the friend who you can spend hours with at lunch, chatting and nibbling and completely forgetting about the outside world. There is inherent value in a conversation with a friend that isn’t interrupted by other chats or messages, or whatever is going on on each side of the computer screen. Conversation can flow naturally and isn’t punctuated by someone’s loss of an Internet connection or the accidental misspelling of their Twitter handle. You can actually see your friend laugh, not just read it through “LOL” and watch their facial expressions as you relay the story of slipping in the grocery store in front of the really hot neighbor.

I’m not sure where the answer lies, but as I thank social media for all the new amazing friendships I’ve created I also try to unplug from it time and time again to reconnect the old fashioned way.

A handwritten card.  A care package.  A coffee date with an old friend who won’t add the Internet onto her phone.  A phone call.  An invitation to my friends to come to dinner and check their cell phones at the door. A congratulations on an engagement, baby or wedding that comes via the US Postal Service and not on a screen.

So what do you say—is social media ruining your friendships?

Daisy is a lawyer married to a lawyer (insert lawyer jokes here) living in a small condo in a big city with a new baby and beagle. She breaks up the legal-speak by blogging about life in Chicago, which is filled with escapades of urban living. In the summer she enjoys patio dining and in the winter wonders what she was thinking when she moved here. You can read more from Daisy on her blog, Just Daisy.

Erin January 27, 2011 at 9:57 am

I’m not sure…but I don’t think that social media is ruining my friendships..

With my close girlfriends from university…we all call, text or email each other important news…I got a call christmas eve from a friend telling me that she was engaged, I had a skype date with another friend where she told me she was engaged..a phone call from another friend last spring and all before this leaked onto facebook..because as they were telling family and the close friends..they asked them not to share the they hadn’t told everyone they wanted to yet..and everyone seemed to respect that.. Within our group of girls (six of us..) ..we made a promise that we would always stay close..and for us, that meant actively working to not just have a relationship through social media…we call or skype with each other almost always at least weekly..and we make the effort to drive and get together whenever we can…one of my friends drove three hours to spend the afternoon sledding with us..then we went out for hot chocolate, caught up in person, and she drove three hours home because she had to be somewhere early the next morning – but she is invested in keeping our friendship alive, just like the rest of we are constantly doing things to try to make it work.

Other friends..yes..I learn about their engagements, babies, etc. through social medias…but if this social media didn’t exist..I probably wouldn’t know about them at all, and we would have lost touch long ago..only seeing each other randomly, and with such busy lives going in every which direction..I’m sure I would be completely lost as to where they are and what they’re it’s kind of nice to have a little link there..just to pop in every now and then and say….hey..i’m so happy for you, that life is going so great! and then be able to sign out and go back to my own busy schedule..

In some media has even made me feel closer to people that I’m really good friends with…but who don’t live close by…only one of my GOOD, close friends lives in the same town as me anymore…the others are spread from a few hours drive to a day away by connecting with them is hard, and can be so expensive and hard to plan and navigate…I grin from ear to ear when I catch a friend in Europe, or another part of Canada, or my cousin in the states online, or posting something silly on facebook…or when a close girlfriend in Australia posts photos of her new baby girl. I love being able to see life through status updates and photos and random’s as if I’m there – even though I’m a million miles away…when all I wish I could do is to curl up on the couch with them and catch up for hours. We do take time to email and skype…and there are phonecalls…but life is busy, time zones suck…and it gets harder and harder to do these things as life gets busier and busier…so when we’re not able…facebook or twitter or whatever fills in the gaps for the time being…and I feel like it’s even easier to just fall back into place when we are able to be face to face again..because I still am connected with them and know what’s going on in their respective lives

Maybe my situation is unique..since I use it primarily for keeping in touch with people who don’t live anywhere near me..but are still really close friends…but it works for us. My close university girlfriends and my friends from travelling really do make an effort to tell each other things…I will never forget the phonecall from Australia in the middle of the night from a friend who had gotten the time zones mixed up – but it was all worth it, because she told me that she was pregnant and rambled on about how she was in shock and just needed to talk to a friend – and that pregnancy was kept quiet (of her own accord) on facebook until she was six months pregnant…until she’d decided that she’d told everyone that she needed to tell, and come to grips with it and whatever – and with everyone she told – she asked that they not share the news on fb…and if they did share it with someone else, that they also know that she wasn’t ready for it to be out there yet..and it worked

I’m grateful for it in a lot of ways..because it’s allowed me to keep a lot of great people in my life..a lot of whom I’m sure would still be in my life without it..but it would just be A LOT more difficult and time consuming without it..

Daisy January 27, 2011 at 3:21 pm

I love that social media has let me keep friends in my life that would have otherwise drifted away, so you make a great point there!!

Patty January 27, 2011 at 11:34 am

I do somewhat agree. My best friend and I have known each other since birth. Our sisters were friends. Our houses were down the street. We grew up together. We even burnt ourselves into a lobster-ish red tone one summer, because she thought it’d be a good idea to use Crisco as tanning lotion.

When we first left for college in different states (and pre-Facebook), we’d call, email, and write each other to check in or with big news. When we were both in town for the holidays, we would make a point to see each other first thing.

And then social media came. We talked a lot at first on Facebook, as it seemed like a really convenient way to keep in touch. Then, like I’ve see happen a lot as social media use grows, one or both parties sort of realize that you don’t have to really talk that much to know what is generally going on. It’s right there on your “wall.” So, we started talking less frequently. I would try more often, but she was busy. It didn’t help that later she became a teacher in a school that is pretty strict on their teacher’s public persona, so her Facebook privacy became tighter than my skinny jeans. And that was where we really trailed off.

So, anyhow, sitting on my desk waiting to be mailed is a “thinking of you” card with her name on it. Except, she just moved and I don’t have her new address…you think it’s on Facebook? ;)

Daisy January 27, 2011 at 3:20 pm

Haha, YES! Get her address and send her a card. It will work wonders.

tena January 27, 2011 at 11:55 am

My best friends used to be my neighbors. We were all stay at home moms, helped each other out with our kids, talked every day and had dinner together at least once a week. We moved 5 yrs ago (we outgrew the house and there was crime in the city). I slowly lost touch with my circle of friends from my neighborhood as they all went separate ways. We still talk via social medias like facebook, but are REALLY not close at all anymore.

The first 2 years we were here, I was painfully lonely and becoming discouraged with the new people I was meeting. I don’t know if I am too old or set in my ways (and I’m rather shy and people already have established “groups”), but I have not been able to find new people in this town that I really mesh with.

Enter the Internet friends. For the past 3 years, I have been blogging and meeting people online and communicating with them via social media. I have met new people from all over the world. Some I consider my best friends- that I go to with my problems like I would any “real life” friend- I haven’t even met in real life. Some may think I depend on it too much and that it’s weird, but it’s been a saving grace for me. I’ve not closed myself off to real world relationships and I have old friends that will always be around, but I’ve found this an easier way for me to open up and meet people and grow friendships from there.

Daisy January 27, 2011 at 3:20 pm

I definitely agree that I’ve made some WONDERFUL friends online (hello, YOU) but I think sometimes I like to unplug and talk to someone face to face. I like to HEAR my friend’s laugh :-)

Amie January 27, 2011 at 12:35 pm

I am appalled by some of the things I discover on facebook. I can’t tell you how many people who were asked specifically NOT to mention things online post crap that they seem to think is sneaky like “Hey! So excited for you!! You’re going to need a bigger bra, lol. J/K!” and then argue that they didn’t actually say anything.

That said, I do end up emailing my girlfriends more than actually talking to them. We’re all in different timezones, some with infants, others with toddlers, and it’s sometimes just too hard to actually talk on the phone. It’s not ideal, but it can be an acceptable substitute, sometimes.

And I have a few penpals. Writing letters is fun. Getting letters is SUPERFUN. There’s nothing better than opening the mailbox to find a few catalogs, some bills, and a hand-written letter from a friend. The letter makes it all better.

Daisy January 27, 2011 at 3:19 pm

Getting letters in the mail is one of the best feelings in the world!

Life of a Doctor's Wife January 27, 2011 at 5:01 pm

I am not a very social person, so I’m not sure if this applies to me. But I think social media is ruining SOMETHING. (And I say that as a blogger who feels “close” to a lot of other bloggers. Closer than to some other real-life friends.)

For instance, it’s sad to me that my mother-in-law had to put a very clear embargo on facebook when she shared the news that her mother had passed away. She was afraid that’s how my husband would hear about it – on Facebook from a cousin looking for empathy from his online friends.

And some friends I just no longer want to be around because they are SO OBSESSED with their phones. I’m sorry, but if you can’t put your phone away for an hour to have dinner with me, then I need a raincheck.

So in that way, I think social media is destructive. It splinters our time and attention and makes nothing as important as that instant fix of information.

Of course, there are huge benefits to having a universe of people ready to respond to you at any minute of the day… Which is why, I guess, it’s so insanely addictive.

Sara January 31, 2011 at 2:50 pm

I like the idea of closing your Facebook wall when you have something important to announce. That’s also a big reason why I’m not “friends” with any of my parents. I don’t want them to read some flippant remark on Facebook and misinterpret it.

I also know that it does take it’s toll on friendships. I have a very dear friend who I tried and tried to get in touch with. It got to the point I actually thought I had offended her in some way or done something to cause her to end our friendship. Turns out she was just busy (after I blatantly asked if had had done something), but she knew all about hat was going on with me since she was on Facebook, just not posting her own updates! Sigh…

It’s just hard. Because on the one hand we feel like we are more connected, but I really think we are less connected since online is not a substitute for in person.

I saw a funny quote the other day that said, Facebook is for people you used to be friends with and Twitter is people you hsould be friends with.

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