Social Media and The Effects on Friendship

April 15, 2010

I’ve been chatting a lot lately with people about social media’s effect on friendship. I think our hyper-connectivity may be a major dilemma of our (rather, my) generation.

On one side, studies upon studies have shown the human brain cannot process these mass amounts of “friends” with whom we’ve developed these online relationships.

On the other, our hyper connectivity has contributed to larger and more diverse social networks, greater brain function and making us the greatest generation of networkers.

Personally, these social tools have been the source of jobs, friends, roommates, lovers and even bitter battles. I’ve been able to leverage them to get free shit like tickets to events and, most recently, an iPod touch. I’ve been able to meet cool people on random trips and stay close with them for years after – all thanks to these social media tools.

As an online relationship connoisseur, here’s how I address some of the concerns I hear about.

“Social Media Breeds Social Isolation”

For one, I keep hearing people’s concerns that social media interaction hinders one’s ability and enthusiasm to connect with people IRL (in real life). Studies, like the one from The Wall Street Journal, actually show it enhances one’s abilities to connect with people in real life.

The reason social media has become such an invaluable communications tool is because of its PeLiMe factor (people like me).

Say for example you are really into knitting and all your friends think that it’s a lame activity and that you, yourself, are lame for liking it, then your world can appear small and dark.

Then you find an online knitting enthusiasts community, and these like-minded people make you feel special and accepted. It may be an echo chamber, but at least you are with like-minded people who accept you for the person you like to be.

Take it a step further – turns out ten of these people are actually located in the same city as you. Suddenly you can have an IRL knitting group, and these new friends you are meeting in person already accept you. What a beautiful world.

There have always been and always will be people who are introverted, socially awkward, socially anxious, or even just completely uninterested in human interactions. If anything, I think social media will be (and has been) a huge help in getting these people out of their shells.

To say that “Bobby chooses to stay in and play on chatroulette instead of going outside to play with the other kids” is this generation’s “blame television” or “rock and roll music made him do it.” If you are not using these social tools to further your in-person relationships, then you are using them wrong.

“Social Media Creates Fake Friends and Relationships”

The next concern I’ve heard is that social media contributes to “fake” friends. These interactions are considered “fake” because they fall into one of the following three categories: 1) People you don’t actually know in IRL 2) People you don’t actually like in IRL, yet are a part of your online networks or 3) People who are afraid of broadcasting real, personal things about themselves; Therefore, their online profiles, blogs, status updates, etc are not sincere reflections of who they really are.

I don’t think its Social Media’s fault…We’re all guilty of “friending” people we don’t necessarily like; but, alas, ‘tis the age of voyeurism… If you don’t like it, don’t add people you don’t know.

Thanks to privacy settings, one can control how much information these friends-for-the-sake-of-facebook have access to. In fact, the beautiful thing about social media is that you can choose precisely who can and cannot contact you. Yes – you can block the fakes, the annoying, the etceteras…

Additionally, I’m afraid the public-facing-vanilla-personality bullshit did not begin – nor will it end – with social media. People have been dull, two-faced and afraid to be real from the beginning of time. These social tools have simply amplified it. Self-actualization is at the top of the totem pole for a reason.

While it’s always advisable to have a filter, privacy standards in place and practice, and common sense – being yourself online (like in business) helps you to stand out and develop a personal brand. While all these vanillas will never change, a part of me hopes one day they will – in person and online. Until then, it will be easier for people like myself (I’m pretty boring, really) to stand out and leverage these tools (for friends, jobs and free shit) by simply trying to be myself (with common sense and privacy in mind).


17 Responses to “Social Media and The Effects on Friendship”

  1. Dave Coleman Says:

    I couldn’t agree more with this. Social media has made me a much more interactive and social person. I went out a lot before I was on social media, but the connections that I have now are above and beyond what I used to have. I meet most of these people on a monthly basis and have developed some very strong relationships (especially with a certain someone). In addition I actually feel as though my social skills are stronger now as my ability to engage with people has grown and due to the mass amount of information I take in on a daily basis, I always have SOMETHING to talk about.

    Great post

  2. I also agree. I think some people equate social networking to sitting in mom’s basement chatting online and never actually meeting anyone, however, I prefer to think of social media as a social enabler, just as you’ve mentioned in your blog entry. It has contributed to making my life busier with things that I actually want to be doing, like connecting with PeLiMe.

  3. Thank you!!!!!!!!!!

  4. I love that line “I prefer to think of social media as a social enabler”

  5. Roman Says:

    Love the article Mel! I agree with it as well. Social media brings communities together and allows grassroots movement! It promotes its in fact and opens up channels of communication between people.

  6. Enrico B Says:

    “There have always been and always will be people who are introverted, socially awkward, socially anxious, or even just completely uninterested in human interactions. If anything, I think social media will be (and has been) a huge help in getting these people out of their shells.”

    I strongly agree with this statement, being such a sort of person myself (well, minus the “uninterested in human interactions” part). And I don’t think I’m alone. These tools have especially been helpful in creating and nurturing professional connections; I got my last job through Facebook, of all things.

  7. I agree – I also find that things like twitter act almost like social filters – allowing one to find ppl who have similar opinions, interests and lifestyles and can even act as that initial ice-breaker.

    Thanks for the comments guys!

  8. karim kanji Says:

    it is kinda curious indeed.
    Social media tools like blogs, fb and twitter give many people a creative outlet they may never have had before.
    and as a result, many of us have made new friends “irl” as a result.
    but what i’m really interested in is that free internet coupon above. where can i get one?

  9. hahahaha you are the wiener!

  10. Nate Black Says:

    Take your shirt off!… sorry, wrong website.

    But in all honesty, people that claim social media networks beget fake friends are often the ones that understand it the least, and unfortunately are often the loudest voices in the room… which is why I stick to chat rooms, where you’re only as loud as your CAPS LOCK FUNCTION!

    Doing flesh-space things with Twitter friends, is also just more fun. It’s not about separation of cyber and flesh, it’s the amalgamation of both experiences into something awesome… see Terminator series.

  11. Mark Says:

    I hope it’s OK for a 40-yo to add to this GenY discussion? 😉

    Without doubt the internet and social networks have transformed both business and private lives. Mostly for the better. And it’s incredible to think that Google, for example, was founded only a little over 10 years ago.

    But with all the benefits, it’s prudent to consider the challenges it has also presented the world. For example, what has been the effect of social networks on our productivity? I know I spend more time fiddling about with FB, Google Buzz, Readers, blogs, etc. etc. And some of it is necessary for work. But how about the bigger picture?

    Last year, the company I work for (with 12,000 staff worldwide) performed an audit on everyone’s internet activity and behaviour during work time. The results were shocking. Many many staff were spending inordinate amounts of time on social networks during their contracted hours. One staff within my department had spent a total of 21 hours in a single week on Facebook — that’s out of a 35-hour contracted week! And no, unfortunately it wasn’t a case of leaving an idle window open all day — the keystrokes were logged.

    Social networks can be a massive distraction to us all, both in and out of work, and much of the behaviour I witness I would class as semi-addictive. And I am no exception. The last time I took my family on a summer vacation, I packed my laptop, my Blackberry, my phone… Trying to find a free wireless hotspot became and obsession, checking compulsively at every new location. I was missing golden moments as my wife would say “Did you see what Lola just did?” only for me to look up, take my nose out of my BB, and realise I had missed a REAL wonderful moment.

    Social networks are great, but they also contain a salutary lesson in keeping perspective. Even as I type now my perception is that I am connecting with the world, or at least other contributors to this thread. But in reality I am sat in front of my PC on my own at home as the kids are having their bath and nagging me to read them a bedtime story.

    It is this side of social media that people, quite rightly, fret over. That and the fact that people seem to have no qualms about laying bare their professional and personal lives to all.

    I’m glad when I was at university there was no such thing. Because I need never live in fear of a past indiscretion being placed onto a platform somewhere with my tag all over it. You guys though…

    Well, in the words of an old favourite TV show which was on when you were still in diapers…

    Hey, let’s be careful out there. (Hill Street Blues)

  12. Holy Crapola. Mark I always love ur comments b/c they are from a totally different view point – which I appreciate.

    It may *seem* to contribute to lower productivity and possibly even to one’s loss of interest in reality or the people in one’s life… But its not the reason… and that’s not a social media issue.

    People have attributed that loss of interest to work, television, nintendo, cell phones, and every other piece of entertainment that can hold our attention for more than five seconds for as long as I can remember.

    Im willing to bet that employees of the 60s were also slacking off every now and then, interests elsewhere, while smoking and drinking in the office… and it wasn’t social media to blame… its people who choose to do so that are to blame.

    These are tools, you choose to use them how you choose to use them. What you make of it is entirely up to you. Like little bobby in my example.

    Ohh and I’d like to get ur opinion on my next post about the internet privacy bill. maybe we can set up a skype this weekend.


  13. Mark Says:

    Yes, you definitely have a point about all the other distractions. I think that social media falls into this category. In the 80s and 90s there were far fewer distractions. I remember before Windows (using an old DOS shell) we just got on with work because, well, it was there in front of us with few distractions. Then came Windows, packaged with simple games, and you would not believe how much time one could waste on Minesweeper! From there the distractions just ramped up.

    But you’re right about one thing: if you’re not satisfied with your job, then you’re more likely to seek out distractions such as these. Social networks offer us another potential time-waster. So the problem isn’t necessarily social networks per se, but the combination of disengaged workers and the distractions available to them.

    But still… temptation is often hard to avoid. Right now, my first coffee of the day in my office, I’m responding to your blog when there’s a ton of work to be done. 😉

    P.S. I was invited to attend Ofcom’s (the government watchdog for communications) presentation to the creative industries on how they intend to implement the Digital Economy Bill that was rushed through last week. I could talk all day on our new laws and what they might mean! 🙂

    It’s a shame you guys don’t have access to BBC’s iPlayer because there was an excellent programme/documentary about the Bill and how it will affect families. I suppose you could spoof your IP, but I couldn’t condone that since it would be in contravention of the Bill itself! 😉

  14. “Right now, my first coffee of the day in my office, I’m responding to your blog when there’s a ton of work to be done.”
    lolz> blog FTW!!!!

    Thanks mark, Im very excited to chat with u about that.

    and will try to go through a few proxies and try to access that bbc plyer 😉

  15. For those whose companies/workplaces are suddenly blocking access to social media apps, here’s a helpful whitepaper on the subject. It’s called “To Block or Not. Is that the question?”

    It has lots of insightful and useful information about identifying and controlling Enterprise 2.0 apps (Facebook, Twitter, Skype, SharePoint, etc.)

    Share this with the IT Dept. It could help the situation.

  16. also work checking out > mashable guides
    1) why banning socmed often backfires

    2)5 Ways to Reduce Social Media Distractions and Be More Productive

  17. nate – ur comment was caught in my spam filtration device. I, unfortunately approved it.

    All I have to say?

    Have a nice day.

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