Is Facebook really keeping you connected?

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According to a recent Neilsen survey, the average person spends about triple the time on social media than they do with email.  23% of online time is spent on social networking.  To be sure, in the IT industry, these numbers are surely different … at ITW we live and breath our days in Outlook.  Email is the fibre of our business and interteam communication.  But the general insight about the growing role of social media remains.  Now, the deeply committed Facebookies will no doubt claim this as a victory for Web 2.0 … a symbol that social networking is the most virtuous way to stay connected and in touch with friends, family, and colleagues.  I’m not so sure they should be breaking out champagne and toasting the new world order just yet.

Ask yourself, how deeply meaningful is the social interaction you engage in via Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter?  If you practice safe internet habits, and exercise restraint with your information sharing … as you should be …  then the image of you that people gleen online is but a sanitized fraction of the real you.  It is the version of you that is polished and clean enough for your boss to see if he friends you on Facebook.  What is more, consider how fleeting and trivial much of that interaction really is … especially on Facebook with all the silly pokes, games, zombie chain letters etc…

Or, think about that old chum from highschool who you discovered on Facebook. You probably wouldn’t even recognize him at a pub, but still you spent 15 minutes looking at pictures of his sister’s wedding and perhaps saying congrats on his wall.  While nostalgia may fuel the fire to connect to this old chum, is he really a part of your life?  However cold and crass it might sound, does he really deserve your valuable time?  If you really wanted to be connected to this person, wouldn’t you send him an email or call him on the phone? Don’t we recognize those methods of communication as somehow more significant than just passively Facebooking him?

I think so.

Don’t get me wrong … The fact that this technology has enabled me to say hello to someone I haven’t seen in 15 years is incredible.  But I don’t want to fool myself into thinking that Facebook (or other social media) is a tool for real, sincere communication.   There is no substitute for a firm handshake and a face-to-face conversation.

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