Is Social Media Really Social?

I’m a happy subscriber to Matthew Wayne Selznick’s news email (something you can do here)and he asked a pertinent question and one I’ve thought about more than once over the last several years. “Does Social Media Make Us Socially Lazy?” In it, he talked about meeting old friends for the first time in a long time and about a Facebook only friend that he met face to face to the first time. His takeaway was, that in his case at least, social media has become a sort of substitute for face to face meetings. It’s easier to “keep in touch” via social media and while that can be good it also rapidly becomes a very surface relationship.

I don’t entirely agree. I credit social media for several friendships that are at varying degrees of depth. Were it not for blogging, Twitter, Facebook, and other outlets I wouldn’t have those friends at all. They’ve all added to the richness of my life and I’m thankful. I’ve kept in touch with those friends over the years and in spite of the miles that separate us, I know what it going on in their lives and they know what’s going on in mine.

Here’s where I agree quite a bit, while I might not have had those friendships, prior to social media if I wanted to keep in contact with someone I would email, call, or *gasp* actually meet with them face to face. I don’t call my own mother nearly often enough and have instead gotten her to join Facebook. Now that I have the “easy way” I often don’t take any way but that.

I moved recently and during that process I uncovered some letters written to a college chum. I cherish those letters. You know the last time I wrote a physical letter? I’ll give you a hint, it predates most social media outlets. Hmmm.

One of the takeaway from this conversation that Matt had with his friends was that they would do better at keeping in touch on a deeper level. He doubts his own ability to make that happen. I’m in his camp. I’ve been doing this so long that I doubt my own ability to break out of the habit of taking the easy road. But, anything worth doing is rarely easy.

What do you think? How has social media affected you and your relationships?

3 thoughts on “Is Social Media Really Social?”

  1. I’m so pleased my essay inspired you, Scott!

    It’s worth mentioning, I think, that the real question I posed in the exclusive essay to my mailing list community was:

    “When considering your extended circle of friends–the people you’ve met in “real life” and who are a reasonable distance away, but don’t regularly see face-to-face–has the convenience of social media meant you actually meet less often?”

    Certainly, social media is great for keeping up with folks who are far away, or for cultivating friendships with people who aren’t nearby.

    But what about the people you know who are in reasonable driving distance? Does social media contact serve as a proxy and surrogate for “real” face-to-face contact with those friends?

    Or is social media a convenient tool for organizing and encouraging “meatspace” interaction with those nearby friends?

    1. For me it’s a bit of a time saving device. I can’t get together with all of the people that live within a reasonable distance as often as I can interact with them in meatspace. I can interact daily (and throughout the workday) with people near and far moreso than I could on the phone. I think in that sense it’s a good.

      But yeah I think it can also serve as a proxy. There are also people that I think I interact with “better” over SM than I do in person.

      It’s also a good tool for organizing and encouraging these face to face meetings.

  2. One impact to consider is re: people who choose not to be on Facebook (in particular). I am one of those people, and think it’s a reasonable personal choice. Others can reasonably choose otherwise, but I have noticed, sadly,that some of my long-time friends now only seem to communicate via Facebook. I appreciate the ones who, while active on Facebook themselves, respect my choice and also make the effort to communicate via email.

    Also – I find myself avoiding getting together with some people because they are constantly taking pictures in any gathering to put them out on whatever social media, not respecting the boundaries of people who aren’t into that.

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