Friendship is a strange creature, and with social media, the definition itself is changing. But is it for the better… or for the worse?
Adding anyone as “friend” on Facebook is simple. You could have known them your whole life, or just met them. It makes little difference to the social network, and your interaction is exactly the same. The people who see your status messages and read your latest wall posts are part of a single mass of connections. They are privy to your opinions and emotions; they have a level of intimacy with you that in previous times would have been reserved for our nearest and dearest. What kind of impact does this have on us? On our psychology? On our concept of friendship?
A recent Associated Press article states that divorce lawyers are finding social networks increasingly useful.
“People are just blabbing things all over Facebook. People don’t yet quite connect that what they’re saying in their divorce cases is completely different from what they’re saying on Facebook. It doesn’t even occur to them that they’d be found out,” divorce attorney Leslie Matthews says.
It’s natural to trust your friends, but what happens when everyone you’ve ever met becomes a “friend”?
Mashable has an article by Ori Brafman, co-author of a book on instant connections, which raises this question.
Working with his brother, a psychologist, to research what makes people form instant connections, Brafman found that Facebook lacks many of the “accelerators” that trigger or enable the deep bonds we form in real life.
Instead of meeting people who are close to us and who we can see all the time, sharing secrets with them and forming the cliques that give us a sense of belonging and unity, Facebook and social networks like it encourage us to reach out to strangers, to trust everyone and to belong to one giant global community.
More, not deeper
Social psychologists believe communication is an important factor in establishing friendships, but the sending and receiving of verbal and written messages goes alongside other factors like similarity, personal attraction and non-verbal cues.
“In their interactions with each other, humans display complex interpersonal dynamics. Their overt actions hide covert patterns of interaction,” summarises Kate Grieve, author of A Student’s A-Z of Psychology.
In the digital age, we know more people and spend more time with them, but the bonds we share are thinner, as our friendships through these networks lack depth.
Facebook’s original mission was to reconnect you with the people you already knew, letting you form intimate groups online where you could share recent experiences and photographs. Now things have changed… Facebook encourages you to connect with “everyone”, or at the very least, “friends of friends”, much in the way MySpace used to, toting slogans all about “open” and “instant”.
Your special little network on Facebook has become much bigger, encompassing not only those who you’d share your deepest, darkest secrets with, but everyone you’ve ever met. While this is still useful in its own way, it places limits on how close a relationship you can form.
The solution may lie in balancing our online relationships with real interaction with the people in our lives, and being extra careful about what we say to everyone else.
(originally posted at Digital Life)