Is Social Networking Really Anti-Social?

Here is a perspective on Facebook that you don't hear too often.

I despise Facebook. This enormously successful American business describes itself as "a social utility that connects you with the people around you". But hang on. Why on God's earth would I need a computer to connect with the people around me? Why should my relationships be mediated through the imagination of a bunch of supergeeks in California? What was wrong with the pub?

And does Facebook really connect people? Doesn't it rather disconnect us, since instead of doing something enjoyable such as talking and eating and dancing and drinking with my friends, I am merely sending them little ungrammatical notes and amusing photos in cyberspace, while chained to my desk? A friend of mine recently told me that he had spent a Saturday night at home alone on Facebook, drinking at his desk. What a gloomy image. Far from connecting us, Facebook actually isolates us at our workstations.

Now, the article as a whole is a little bit out there, with the author claiming he hates Facebook because of the underlying political and philosophical ideas of the board members. And while I tend to agree with him that people are sheep-like in the short-term (which can be decades) I don't worry about it because society always moves towards a more rational and self-interested equilibrium in the long-term. Regardless of the core content of the article, I found the opening paragraphs interesting, and worth a read.

  • But remember Keynes: in the long run we’re all dead.

  • Facebook is not inherently anti-social. Only if users replace connecting with friends in-person or on the phone with Facebook connectivity does it become anti-social. This means the culprit here is not Facebook, but users who use it in the wrong way. As always, the responsibility falls on the user.

    However, it is interesting how the richer and more diverse a social technology experience gets, the easier it is to replace traditional human connections with technology. Thus the paradox of social networking tools – if used as a replacement tool instead of an enhancement tool, the better they get at connecting us in the digital world, the better they get at disconnecting us in the real world.

  • So we’re slowly moving towards becoming Solaria…

  • Social networking does proliferate anti-social behavior; no need to expound.

    “…society always moves towards a more rational and self-interested equilibrium in the long-term” This is definitely debatable.

  • Jeff

    Like anything else, if taken to an extreme it can be harmful. I moved to a new city and Facebook has really jump-started me socially. A problem with meeting new people is that you actually become friends with a very small percentage of them, even if there is “friend chemistry”. Facebook has enabled me to keep in touch with people I meet and figure out exactly how people fit into the scheme of things, i.e. X is friends with Y because X went to school with Y’s brother, Z. My favorite is the picture-tagging feature. One goofy group picture, and by the time you are finished “tagging” people you have a name and a face for a dozen people.

    Now, that was the Facebook of the past, and future if I get my wish. With the invention of applications you see Facebook becoming less of a social tool than a way to withdraw. I’ve noticed an inverse relationship between the number of mind-numbing applications friends use and their sociability. The older you get and the fewer friends you have also increases your number of applications it seems. I truly hope applications are “short-term” because I cannot stand to read another newsfeed about how another friend was turned into a “Zombie”… and it can take needless text messaging with it.

  • Though I don’t participate at Facebook, I do find that social voting sites are largely elite-ocracies and far from the democratic social groups they claim to be. Rather than breeding social values, they breed power hoarding.

  • I don’t think it is Facebook specifically, but technology in general – and the answer isn’t that it isolates people, but more of a “yes and no”. No because I can use things like e-mail, IM, Facebook, MySpace, whatever to connect to friends across the country who I wouldn’t normally be seeing every day. This allows me to have a little adult conversation with people I know I have things in common with, friends that I have had for a long time. It also helps work at home people like me to feel less isolated and be able to make business connections across the country. (My products and services are not local in nature.) Yes in that I think these technologies can allow people to replace actual human contact – for example, I can talk to my college buddies instead of making new friends around here. In theory, at least … the reality is that married moms of 2yos don’t go out with drinking buddies on weeknights anyway, or find a sitter to hit 3 networking events a week. So I’m not really replacing anything by chatting on a business forum at 11 pm or IMing my college buddy during the Steve Jobs Keynote — I’m actually expanding myself and my social contacts. Most stay-at-home moms/work-at-home entrepreneurs like me don’t have the ability to commit to the amount of time it would take to foster new friendships anyway, and when you cross over lines it is hard to get either group to truly accept you. The mommy groups tend to kick you out when you have irregular attendance, and the networking groups tend to have meeting times that are not very convenient for someone with a young child. So I make what I can, and I round it out with the connections I make online. And phew, that wasn’t very personal or anything! Haha. I don’t think this experience is limited to me, however — I have heard from many of my college friends how hard it is to make friends post-college and find things in common with the people around you like you did in college.

  • I agree that the thought of someone sitting at their computer alone with a glass of wine may not appeal to some, but there are many people in the world that are not very outgoing, social, etc. Facebook brings being social a little closer to them. Otherwise, they would be sitting home alone with a glass of wine anyway.

  • In my own point of view, Facebook offers you two kinds of friends: the real, personal one and the digital variety. Well, if some people can’t cope with that then they are not required to create an account anyway.

  • That is an interesting perspective on Facebook. I find myself sometimes lingering in between “anti-social” behavior, like the author mentions, and actually connecting with my friends on facebook to say ‘hi’.

    However, I wouldn’t say that it is “anti-social”, but interesting article. Thanks for posting.