The Hard Facts: Is Twitter Chatter Ruining Friendships?

It’s Research Wednesday! Where I share the latest, or most fascinating, in the science of friendship.

“The shortcomings of social media would not bother me awfully if I did not suspect that Facebook friendship and Twitter chatter are displacing real rapport and real conversation … The things we may be unlearning, tweet by tweet — complexity, acuity, patience, wisdom, intimacy — are things that matter.” (New York Times, “The Twitter Trap” by Bill Keller)

This isn’t so much the latest in the science of friendship as it is the latest in the journalism of friendship, but when the executive editor of The New York Times writes a piece on how Twitter and Facebook are ending real-life friendship, it’s worth noting.

“I’m not even sure these new instruments are genuinely ‘social,’” he writes. “There is something decidedly faux about the camaraderie of Facebook, something illusory about the connectedness of Twitter. Eavesdrop on a conversation as it surges through the digital crowd, and more often than not it is reductive and redundant. Following an argument among the Twits is like listening to preschoolers quarreling: You did! Did not! Did too! Did not!”

There is certainly some truth to this. There are undoubtedly people who use Facebook interaction as a substitute (albeit a poor one) for the real-life kind. I know some of these people. It’s no joke. They delude themselves into believe that wishing someone a happy birthday on Facebook is equal to a a live phone call.  Or that messaging each other on Twitter is akin to sharing a breakfast burrito over brunch. It’s not.

But there is an opposite argument. In a response to Keller’s essay, Jenna Wortham of the New York Times wrote this: “For me, the exact opposite has happened. The stream of pleasantries, links and comments that I exchange online have only served to heighten my craving for in-person interactions at the end of the day. Laughing and gossiping outside of a Google Chat box (even if things we’ve read in the Internet often fuel a large part of the conversation) feels like a necessary antidote after a long day of silently staring at a computer screen and monitoring news alerts on my phone.”

Wortham goes on to say that Twitter has in fact emboldened her to approach potential new friends in person. She explains a recent experience when she met–in real life!–two people to whom she is virtually connected. “After following them both online for months and exchanging good-natured messages on Twitter, I was beside myself with excitement to finally meet them offline. I can’t imagine I would have been bold enough to introduce myself or strike up a conversation had we not built up a kind of camaraderie on Twitter in the weeks before.”

Clearly it can go both ways. If I had to make a personal call, I’d say social networking has amped up my social life. I never stay in so I can peruse Facebook or update my Twitter feed. I do, however, sometimes meet people I’ve only spoken to on those sites. That said, I see both sides of the argument.

Where do you fall? Think online conversation is displacing face-to-face contact? Think we are unlearning social graces? Or does the constant glare of online networking make you crave real-life interaction?


Filed under 21st Century Friendships, The Old Days

6 responses to “The Hard Facts: Is Twitter Chatter Ruining Friendships?

  1. Laurie Lee

    I have some relationships that have been re-established, enhanced or revived via Facebook. I have some that I know would cease to exist without Facebook which makes me sad about the few that *really* matter to me. It’s like anything else, you have to have balance. You can’t really live on Facebook but it’s fun to have around. Aside from friends on Facebook, I love having one centralized place to hear about sales and TV shows. I’ve gotten some great deals shopping that I would not been aware of if not for Facebook. I’ve also love the interactiveness with shows, movies and even the stars, and the “heads up for different shows that I would have missed seeing/DVR if not for Facebook posts.

  2. Lorrie Paige

    With having a kind of relationship on social networks, it has given me a lot more acquaintances in the amount I would not have normally acquired in offline face-to-face meets. That’s the only thing places like Twitter and Facebook has done for me.

    They are also great in advertising a self-employed business, as I have for my online Life Coach work, so I do that as well and have received a lot more clients in the process. 🙂

    Clearly places like social networks are damaging deeper, more intimate relationships like friendships, as well as texting and other alternatives to actually being with a person. There has been studies and college professors have said how young people’s social skills are worse as a result of these alternative ways of communicating with people. People are becoming more and more socially inept. It’s very sad.

    There was a poll online where it was asked what is your favorite way of communicating and keep in touch with friends/family. It listed about 8 ways and shockingly, seeing a person face-to-face was not listed! A few people (me included) mentioned seeing a friend face-to-face is our favorite way to keep in touch…Sadly, we’re at an age when no one has the time or the motivation to meet others in person anymore…Thank God for Meet-Up, where they are trying to keep it alive.

  3. I think Facebook has allowed me to become friends with people I might not have seen again. Like I made a friend swing dancing in a town an hour and a half away that I only go to once or a few times a month, and since we connected on Facebook we have kept in touch and have met up for other swing dance venues. I got my brother to reconnect with one of his best friends in high school on Facebook and since then we all have become really good friends and she is my one of my closest friends. We wouldn’t have gotten in touch again if I hadn’t urged my brother to make a facebook and try to reconnect with some old friends.

  4. San

    Since most of my friends live far away, yes, Twitter (and Email) have replaced real-life conversations…. BUT: I still crave real-life interaction and I take a phone call over a g-chat any day (if time allows).
    I think it really only becomes dangerous if online is the only interaction that you have, possibly with “friends” that you haven’t even met yet.

  5. I remember reading somewhere that the online social interactions we have online are no less valid than the ones we have in “real” life, you are still thinking about that person, smiling and laughing at the things they say, their photos and so on. I chat, argue, share and make jokes on facebook much in the same way I would in real life. I recently moved cities and facebook has allowed me to maintain friendships – even ones where we had just met and I would have loved to carry on getting to know each other but I moved. When you first meet someone it seems acceptable somehow to add them on Facebook just by looking up their name or thru a shared friend – but a bit odd to ask them for their mobile number outright. And it is much less daunting to say something to them online than in person when you don’t know them very well. Of course there is the opportunity to invite people to events and so on through the medium of FB. Even if it weren’t for facebook, would I hang out with people in real life any more? Probably not, I’d just watch a lot more TV.

  6. I use facebook as a way to keep up relationships since I’ve moved. In fact, facebook was a life saver for me when I first moved out here and didn’t know anyone. I was still able to communicate with grown ups whilst sobbing at the computer because I was so lonely. (Fun times.)
    Most everyone I love is in Illinois, so it’s nice to keep up with them. It’s also been the best way for us to keep connected to our families. Evan comes from a big extended family and I’ve become a lot closer with his cousins since we’ve all joined facebook. But, even though I talk to them all almost daily via the internet, it doesn’t replace seeing them or the fact that we’ve missed the last 2 family reunions because of living so far away and I miss physically being with them all so much.

    That being said, I’ve had to hide a lot of people I’ve friended because I can’t take their posts. I’m not on facebook to listen to your views on politics and religion or watch two people who don’t know each other fight (actually, this kind of goes for real life interactions as well). Pretend like facebook is a small gathering of a lot of people and put your manners cap on for goodness sake.

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