Social networking is a powerful force. It seems like just about everyone participates in social networking in some way, whether it be on Facebook, Twitter, both, or one of the thousands of other social networks that can be found online. Social networks virtually connect us with our friends and family, and they help us meet strangers all over the world who share our interests. Everyone is connected, but how connected are we really? Our lives are so tech-centered, from laptops to cell phones to iPods, and we think we have better access to other people than ever before. But how “social” is social networking, really?
“Why Don’t You Go Knock on His Door?”
A friend of mine recently told me a story about eating dinner with his grandmother. He was at the table texting a friend of his trying to get in touch as he hadn’t heard from the friend in a few days. He told his grandmother that his friend wouldn’t answer his phone and he was worried, and she replied, “Why don’t you go knock on his door?” It was a defining moment for him. He hadn’t thought about that, and he wondered, “Yeah, why don’t I?”
My friend hadn’t thought about knocking on his friend’s door because it’s just not what people do anymore. Well, some people do, but in most cases, the traditional way to contact someone is via telephone. And now social networking has taken things even further from the front door. Lots of people, especially young people, rely on a social network like Facebook to get them in touch with their friends and family. Instead of thinking, “I’ll go knock on his door,” or even, “I’ll go call him,” they think, “Let me post on his wall.” It isn’t hard to see that the transition from knocking on someone’s door to typing them a message online represents a significant decrease in the quality of the communication.
A Nation of Introverts
With everyone sitting behind their computer typing to each other, have we become a nation of introverts? Lots of teens that grow up using social networks to communicate, for example, might lack conversational skills when face-to-face with each other. Talking to someone in person is just not the same as talking to them online. And when we can see a picture of our friend’s new baby on Facebook, maybe we lose the need to go over and visit.
Sense of Community
Social networking is a relatively new way of forming and maintaining relationships. An undeniably good thing about it is it gives us access to people who live far away or who we’d never run into otherwise. And as long as people are conversing with each other in some way, they’re being social, right? Even if it’s just commenting on a blog or sending a tweet, the desire to connect with other people is still there. We haven’t lost our sense of community, we’ve just taken it to a different medium, and there’s nothing anti-social about that.