A recent essay in the New York Times (December 2, 2007) talked about the growing popularity of social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace, and others where the word “friends” is used to describe email relationships with folks we barely know. Humans are gregarious creatures and fare better belonging to networks of family, community, spiritual groups, clubs, and so forth – all of which are sustained through face-to-face contact.
The bottom line is that the more time we spend online, the less time we spend having true relationships complete with challenges, vulnerability, risks and profundity. These are not real-world relationships with depth. These on-line relationships are shadows and facsimiles which ultimately amount to little more than casual, superficial experiences.
One mother, Jene, who listens regularly to my radio program, sent me this letter her 21 year-old son wrote to Facebook. I suggest you show this to all your children and read it twice yourself if you are hooked to on-line pseudo-friendships:
“As a mother of two young adults, I’ve witnessed their obsessive involvement with the many electronic forms of communication that are all the rage in recent years…email, instant messaging, texting, and the several web-based social networks like Facebook and MySpace. All are useful communication tools, but often counterproductive in really getting to know people.
It came to my attention that my 21 year-old son took a bold step recently and closed down his Facebook account by writing a breaking-up letter and posting it as a good-bye. When he shared it with me, I was touched, relieved, and very proud of his stand. I asked him if I might share this with you. His grin, soft laugh and nod of his head spoke volumes:
‘Facebook, we need to have a DTR (defining the relationship) talk…It’s not all your fault, it’s mostly mine…This is the end of you and me, Facebook. I’m leaving you because I have spent more time browsing your pages than I have been spending in the pages of The Good Book. And I can’t live like that anymore. I’ve let you become a monster…you’ve taken too much of my time and my thoughts. Maybe it’s just my lack of self-control or discipline, but you’re addictive to me. I’m ashamed of the number of times I check you daily. If I were able to grasp how much time I have spent swimming though your endless ocean of profiles, I would be able to bear the guilt.
Here’s why: because of your profiles, I’ve become lazy. Because of you I found myself talking with person after person, asking them questions that I already knew the answers to. On many levels I’ve substituted and even avoided personal interactions with people because of your artificial and superficial means of communication. You have diluted my perception of true social interaction.
You’ve made me a coward. There’s a difference between a Facebook friend and an actual friend. Everyone knows the difference, but when one tries to reach across the barrier from Facebook friends to actual friends it just isn’t the same.
Facebook, you’re not all bad. You have your benefits. I must admit, you allow me to network and keep in touch with people with whom I normally wouldn’t have been able to…but at what cost? Wasting time Facebooking people I’ll never meet has distracted me from meeting the person sitting next to me in class, or has kept me from calling up and hanging out with an old friend because Facebooking is just as good? I beg to differ.
In some form or another, you’ve hindered my investment in the relationships with those genuine people hiding behind the idealistic profiles they’ve made of themselves. Let’s face it, I don’t perceive myself in the same way someone else perceives me. From now on, I only want to know people for whom they truly are; not for what you (Facebook) says they are. I just can’t trust you.
‘This might seem radical, but I have to make up for lost time. This hurts me just as much as it hurts you, but I have to take a stand.
Logging out for good,
I am so very impressed with Kyle’s maturity and good sense.