The Emptiness of Internet “Friending”

Either directly (e.g., sadness about not having a relationship with a parent or sibling) or indirectly (e.g., having trouble being intimate), more and more callers to my radio program report a sad sort of alienation from close, loving relationships. Yet the numbers of people deeply invested in “virtual” relationships via Internet “friending” social networks like Facebook, MySpace and Twitter, is growing exponentially. We are involved more in frivolous levels of intimacy and less invested in warm, caring, loving, involved relationships.

The pseudo meaningfulness we imagine as we add our names and faces to someone’s Internet site is addictive, yet ultimately vacuous. There isn’t really anyone out there who cares enough to hold your hand when you are in pain.

The Annenberg Center for the Digital Future at the University of California reported last week that 28% of Americans interviewed last year said they have been spending less time with family members. That’s nearly triple from the numbers in 2006.

In the old days when television was young, families watched together in one room. Now there are TVs in every room of the home, with 500 or more channels, and the family is dispersed, with each “doing their own thing.” The Internet is a one-on-one, non-family experience also – breaking down the cohesiveness of family dynamics, parenting, sharing, and plain old caring.

The problem is that people are, by nature, gregarious. That means we need company. When we spend our time with the technology that minimizes the intimacy of company, we forever alter the ability of individuals to actually experience pure intimacy in a positive, ultimately satisfying manner. And the experience of having lots of so-called “friends” on the Internet is beguiling, but empty — -in effect, a distorted form of solitude.

There is no wonder that so many people have a deep problem with being able to love – they mostly want to be satisfied by flattery, freedom from reciprocal responsibility and the reality of obligations and responsibilities, much less sacrifice for the general good or the benefit of another.

Technological advances in “communication” have actually increased the number of people you can interact with, but have more importantly diluted out the meaningfulness of those same interactions.

Think of families together at dinner, and a whole town helping rebuild your barn. Compare that to what you have now in your life. Which is better for quality of life?