I have a love/hate relationship with social networking sites. While they provide the ability to maintain contact with people that you wouldn’t otherwise have contact with, they also seem to become the main method of communicating with people you would otherwise have a real relationship with. Why call a person when you can write on their Wall? Why visit a person when you can respond to their every tweet? Social networking becomes a way of saying:
I’m vaguely interested in your life, but not enough to put forth effort into making an actual connection.
This isn’t a bad thing on its own. After all, many of your hundreds of Facebook/Myspace friends don’t deserve more than a two sentence comment. Most of them don’t even want to know more than what your status and moods are. There is nothing wrong with that. What starts demeaning relationships is when that becomes your only method of communication with the world, including the friends that you once would’ve talked to on the phone or seen in person.
Why does this happen? It’s easy. Phenomenally easy. Take, for example, a friend’s birthday. Facebook will tell you when someone is getting older. If you’re happy that they’ve aged another year, you can immediately write on their Wall telling them so. Within fifteen keystrokes and a couple clicks of the mouse, they’ll know that you wish them a “Happy Birthday!”. Your obligations as a friend will have been fulfilled, and everyone on Facebook will know that you care enough to spend 30 seconds on them. Or you could text them, which is slightly more personal. Or you could call them, which takes actual interaction. Think about it for a second. Which of these are you most likely to choose?
It comes down to effort. The more personal your attempt to communicate with a person is, the higher the effort. Leaving a message on a website is instant. A text is slightly more effort. Calling a person means you might actually have to spend some time talking to a person. Of course, you could get lucky and just get their voicemail.
The more this becomes an acceptable way of dealing with people, the less meaningful relationships will be. When you have a conversation, you create a unique experience with that person. When you know a person by their status updates, you have the same experience that everyone else does. You never have an intimate interaction. Without mannerisms, tone of voice, facial expressions, and even touch, you really can’t know a person. You can never be friends. You’re just text.
Which is fine for the hundreds of people you don’t really care about. But for the ones you do? Don’t forget to make the effort. Because when you ever stop making the effort, not only will you be treating your friends as if they’re not worth a call, but they might realize that they actually aren’t.