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The Internet, no doubt the most significant technological advancement in the 21st century, brought countless new forms of communication that connect people around the globe. Email, chat rooms, blogs and other Web tools allow us to connect with people from places we have never seen and might never even go to. People with common interests build online relationships without ever meeting face-to-face and online dating is one of the Internet’s biggest and highest-grossing industries.

Of course, we also interact with friends, family and others whom we know “In Real Life” via the Internet. Facebook, the most popular of all social networks, allows us to find and keep in touch with former colleagues and classmates. But is posting a message to a friend’s page as personal as a phone call or lunch date? Do we ignore our “Real” relationships for online buddies? In other words…

Is social media making us less social?

amandafaceAmanda:

This clip from the movie Wall-E is all too close to reality for me (you only need to watch about 30 seconds from this link to get my point). We are so consumed by electronic communication that we are losing touch with actual person-to-person interaction. I’m guilty as well – I feel incredibly lost and awkward if I leave my cell phone at home and go in public alone. But sometimes I think we are so caught up in our digi-lives that we forget what REAL interaction feels like.

chrisface2Chris:

IMO, social media isn’t replacing “real life” communication so much as it is facilitating interactions that otherwise wouldn’t happen. Between mobile Internet devices and applications designed to run in the background (a la TweetDeck), professionals engaging in social media are making the most out of their time — and making the most of their “self-diagnosed ADHD“. Although responding to tweets or commenting on a blog post isn’t as rich as F2F interaction, I don’t see folks canceling meetings because they’re too busy updating their Facebook page or growing their online network.

Amanda:

I agree growing your network is extremely important, but quality still trumps quantity. I might be connected to potential employers via social media, but if I don’t do anything to build those relationships, what does it matter? It’s great we’re able to meet people around the world online, but until there is some quality, one-on-one effort, do you really feel connected to an avatar? SM is a good icebreaker, as Chuck Hemann pointed out in a comment on our first post, but if you don’t build on every relationship, what’s the point? You might have 14,789 “buddies” on Facebook, but how many would you actually call your friends?

Chris:

Though don’t yet have 14,000-some FB friends, I do admit that the age of information overload is upon us, and it applies to social networking just as much as it does to digital content. As the number of SM adapters continues to grow, the number of people bombarding us to “connect” will also grow. But I fail to see how this is a bad thing. Granted the ratio of quality relationships to total connections will always be fairly small, value comes in two distinct forms: 1) the sheer number of leads that can come from a large online network (think the long tail) and 2) the few digital connections that proliferate IRL that wouldn’t have happened without SM. Though it’s impossible to build on EVERY connection, it may just take one relationship to make a difference.

Amanda:

Okay, I agree there are a few cases when social media is the best way to connect without being too creepy. Facebook is a great way to “see” friends who have moved away or to semi-stalk your ex to make sure his new girlfriend isn’t that cute. HOWEVER, I think social media is making us lazy in too many of our relationships. Yea, I could call my high school friends to see what they did last weekend, but I won’t. It’s a lot easier to just visit their SM pages, read other people’s comments and click through their photo albums. I know I’m not the only one who “keeps in contact” with most of her old friends this way, but I bet I’m also not the only one who gets mad at herself for limiting these friendships to online “interactions.”

Chris:

I have nearly 800 friends on Facebook – a virtual collection of people I’ve met F2F at least once. But connecting with these folks through social media doesn’t weaken our relationships. Interaction in the online world allows me to stay on top of what my friends and family are doing without a phone call. I can see pictures from my friend’s vacation hiking in the southwest, and get a better idea of how the vacation went then I ever could from a phone call. Then I can follow up with a phone call and and talk about the pictures.

But the best part about SM, is its ability to connect me to people I might otherwise forget. I’ll be honest: I’m not always going to take the time to call my second cousin, or the guy who lived down the hall from me sophomore year, but if I see they’ve posted pics on Facebook or tweeted something cool, chances are I’ll check it out and send them a note – it’s not the most genuine of connections, but more than would happen otherwise.

Amanda:

Yea, SM lets us make many more connections than we otherwise would, but using social media is much different than depending on it. I think this Coleman ad campaign says it perfectly – it reminds us what social interaction should be. While I’ll probably never give up my SM addiction (a minor problem, compared to some), I still say I’d rather fully immerse myself in the experience and enjoy life than tweet about it all the time, thinking other people care. ‘Cause at the end of the day, I can have a million followers but if my strongest relationship is with my laptop, I won’t be happy. Maybe you see things differently, but I still feel too much social media gets in the way of Real Life. I say put down the Blackberry and wherever you are, be all there.

Chris:

While I’m not here to debate my social media addiction (let’s just say I’m definitely in Amanda’s “some” category), I will maintain that these tools ultimately foster relationships more than they destroy them. Like the folks in the Coleman ads, I too like to live my life deliberately, but I see emerging digital communication platforms as tools to help me do so.
image courtesy of Marketing Weblog & singlemindedwomen.com

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