Friendships in the age of social media

This week I deleted my Facebook account. There are many reasons for leaving Facebook. It is a corporation where the service is free, but the user is the product. Facebook sells the attention of users to advertisers all over the world, and Facebook knows almost everything about their lives, their families and their friends. It is an extremely creepy site that tries to gather as much information about its users online and offline as possible. You would be surprised about how much Facebook actually knows about you. It is also a platform built on exhibitionism and voyeurism, where users edit themselves to exhibit a more flattering side and they quietly spy on their friends. But those are not the reasons why I’m leaving Facebook.

The main reason why I’m quitting Facebook is that it has devalued the way people from younger generations interact with each other. Before Facebook, it was possible to have meaningful exchanges and conversations with people. If people wanted to communicate with friends, they were intentional about who they wrote letters or emails to, who they called. These were two-way exchanges where the writer cared about the reader, and there was a give and take. In my inbox, I can find hundreds of personal emails from years ago. They are a pleasure to read, and I count myself lucky with the friends I’ve made. Over time, I find fewer and fewer.

Since Facebook, I’ve noticed an extreme laziness in many people. There is little effort to communicate directly. Friends broadcast updates about their breakfasts menus, their children’s habits, their latest thoughts on the US election, etc. These broadcasts are to everyone and no one. They’re often intimate glimpses that are completely impersonal. And by broadcasting on Facebook, they’re relieved of the burden of having to communicate directly.

I rarely checked Facebook, and more and more, I found that news from various circles of friends had been transmitted to the world via Facebook. Friends I once had interesting email conversations with and traded book recommendations with now rarely communicate, but I do see photographs of their breakfast pancakes. Friends who I try to arrange coffee with don’t have time to reply to me, but they do have time to update the world with photos of their daily lives.

Facebook encourages passivity. People don’t need to go out and see their friends. They can sit at home and turn on their mobile and scroll through the newsfeed to see what their friends are doing.

Facebook is not entirely negative. It is possible to re-connect with old friends and acquaintances from around the world. However, even before Facebook, if you really wanted to, you could find a friend’s email or telephone number. There are people I may lose touch with by leaving Facebook, but if we don’t see each other in real life, we probably are old acquaintances, not friends.

Anyone reading this blog post will surely tell me I’m a hypocrite for deleting my Facebook account. I’m on Twitter and have over 20,000 followers that I don’t know, yet I’m leaving Facebook where I have friends I do know. There is no hypocrisy. Twitter is built around ideas and the exchange of views. It makes your world slightly bigger. I’ve made many new friends through Twitter. I’ve lost contact with lots of old friends through Facebook.

Dag Hammarskjold wrote, “Friendship is solitude delivered from the anguish of loneliness.” It is a great paradox that studies of Facebook users show that those who use it report greater incidences of loneliness. I can see why. Facebook may allow people to connect to friends, but it does little for friendships.

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