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Social networking threatens friendships

Posted by Michael Bloch in online world (Tuesday August 4, 2009 )

The leader of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales has warned about the degradation of friendships due to the extensive use of social networking services. Usually I’d disregard this sort of thing as crank material, but he has a point.

I do rue the day that the term “friends” was coined for what is more accurately often an acquaintance in the online world.

Westminster Archbishop Vincent Nichols believes “transient” relationships on the Internet could endanger the mental health of teens and points out that friendship is not a commodity, such as it is often viewed in the use of these services, but something that must be worked at.

He believes that as a society we may be losing some of the ability to build interpersonal communication due to our increasingly online world that’s primarily absent of body language and vocal intonation – important flags in communication.

I’ve always been a little bit of a loner and since throwing myself into the Internet over a decade ago, I have found myself distancing myself even more from people on a social basis in the “real” world. But then again, my family are very active on social networks and probably get out and about more in a week than I do in a year – so I think the key is that the dangers are more relevant to people who have the propensity towards self-isolation, whether it be by choice or by circumstance.

The Internet has opened up new worlds for many, including direct access to potentially millions more people of a similar mindset. It’s not that important to have face-to-face contact with people any more for some, including myself.

Previous to the Internet, a person may have only had easy access to his or her local physical community; so it was important to build and maintain relationships – perhaps some relationships that weren’t really compatible, wanted or where the effort was far greater than the return. Why? Out of fear of loneliness. Nowadays, you can be shunned by your entire local community and it really doesn’t matter.

But as with anything human-related, with surplus comes waste – and that can include relationships that could be valuable if we would give them time to develop.

I remember a colleague of mine returning from a world trip and commenting that after spending time in the most crowded cities in the world, he realized just how insignificant he was. I had a similar realization some years ago and it made me question the value of some of the relationships I was engaged in. What it boils down to is that not only am I, like my colleague, insignificant – so is everyone else. That can be a hard concept to process.

I do see this mentality appearing a lot in online business too, although many don’t like to admit it or can even recognize it. We often build relationships for the now, the today, and not the long term. If we can’t get what we want fast enough from the association or creating that bond is too taxing, we simply move on; after all, there’s plenty of fish in the seas – or “friends” on the web.

It’s certainly something to ponder.

Oh, added thought on “friends” and the online world – anyone who starts off a marketing spiel with “Dear Friend” should be summarily executed. The use of the term in that sort of communication borders on profanity :).


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