I just watched an iPad commercial in which, by spotlighting different apps, Apple tries to prove that the gadget is delicious, current, playful, literary and so much more. Towards the middle of the commercial they show the Twitter app, because, they say, the iPad is also friendly.
I’ve become a big Twitter fan lately. (You can follow me here!) It feels more fleeting than Facebook, so I’m willing to post random thoughts as they come up. I find comfort in the fact that they’ll get shoved to the bottom of your feed before they become totally irrelevant. Also, Twitter’s a great source of fascinating links, people have no choice but to be concise, and, best of all, I love how easy it is to engage with others. Perfect strangers and I can exchange TV-on-DVD recommendations. Heaven.
But, ultimately, that’s what they are: strangers.
I get nervous when I see people, or companies, referring to using sites like Facebook or Twitter as being “friendly.” Sure, I’ve met some great people through blogging and meetups and other online communities. Social networking can be a fantastic way to add new people to your life. But updating an online status from the couch in your empty living room is not the same as being “friendly.” Is it?
From what I can tell, the biggest danger of these sites is people taking them as a replacement for face-to-face interaction rather than a supplement. (For the record, I have nothing against Twitter, or iPads. I use, and love, them both.) A social psychologist once told me that the loneliest people are often the ones with the most Facebook friends, because they spend all day behind a computer screen and no time connecting in the flesh. And according to current research, online friendships don’t have the same positive health and longevity effects that the in-person kind do.
We’ve got a careful balance to maintain. Going online can be ideal for keeping up with long-distance pals and checking in on old friends. But when you get so caught up in the virtual world that you forget to live in the real one, then we’ve got trouble. And delusion.
What do you think? Is Tweeting “friendly?” Is there a danger of people relying too much on social networks and losing the benefits of real live friendship? Or are the Facebooks of the world just another way to increase our social engagement?