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.