Human relationships used to be easy: you had friends, boy- or girlfriends, parents, children, and landlords. Now, thanks to social media, it’s all gone sideways. — Susan Orlean
HOW MUCH TIME each day do you spend on social media interacting with “friends”? Do you have hundreds of these friends, or just a few, and what do you make of them?
According to a 2014 Pew Research study, the average Facebook user has 338 online friends. Add to that your friends on Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+ and Pinterest, to name just a few more networks, and that’s a lot of people to keep track of. Way more than we’re capable of tracking, according to Robin Dunbar, a University of Oxford professor who, in researching how primates and homo sapiens act in groups, discovered that we can maintain relationships with a maximum number of 150 people at any one time. Continued research into how and with whom people interact online has confirmed that number.
150 people is still a lot to my mind.
So, we have these social networks that help us keep track of people we might otherwise lose track of — college and high school friends, cousins and aunts and uncles, and so on — but can we truly become friends with someone we’ve never met in person? According to Dunbar, the answer is no.
And yet many of us spend hours each day browsing social networks, reading about our friends’ new jobs, vacations, political views, the antics of their dogs and cats and babies, and what they had for lunch.
Another researcher, Nicole Ellison, an associate professor at the University of Michigan’s School of Information, found that people who asked for advice or favors online — I’m visiting a new city, what should I see while I’m there? What restaurants do you recommend? Do you know any good dentists in my area? — reported a stronger sense of social connection than those who didn’t. So social network relationships had more meaning for those who actively used the sites.
Perhaps the very meaning of friendship and human interaction is changing due to these online connections.
What do you think? Journaling about your feelings, responses, and ideas related to your social networks can help clarify the meaning and purpose of these types of relationships in your life. Following are a few prompts to get you started.
- In general, in what ways does social media enhance and/or detract from your relationships?
- What kinds of relationships do you have with your social media friends? And who do you interact most with online?
- Who in your networks do you a consider as true friends? Do you connect with them outside the networks? If so, what are those connections?
- What meaning does social networking have in your life? And what benefits does it provide to you?
- Do you think that social connections are becoming more shallow as a result of technology? Explain your answer.
- What kinds of personal experiences do you share with your social media friends, and what feedback do you receive? How does this kind of sharing and feedback feel to you?
- If you pared your social media friends down to just those you really care about, how many would be people you also know offline and how many would be people you only know online? How would you go about that “paring down” process?
- Perform a creative cluster using the words “Facebook Friends” as the nucleus. (If you prefer, use a different network such as Twitter or Instagram.) Write a poem using words and phrases from the resulting creative cluster.
Share your thoughts about social media friendships and your responses to some of these journaling prompts — or your creative cluster poem — in the comments section below.