In Tuesday’s post, I introduced the cover story in the current edition of The Atlantic by Stephen Marche entitled, “Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?” (May 2012, pp. 60-69).
Marche’s insightful questions about Facebook’s effects on us are cast against the backdrop of genuine social realities and some disturbing trends. He puts his finger on our shared, deep need for close relationships, and the fact that this need is increasingly thwarted:
“But it is clear that social interaction matters. Loneliness and being alone are not the same thing, but both are on the rise. We meet fewer people. We gather less. And when we gather, our bonds are less meaningful and less easy. The decrease in confidants–that is, in quality social connections–has been dramatic over the past 25 years. In one survey, the mean size of networks of personal confidants decreased from 2.94 people in 1985 to 2.08 in 2004.” (p. 64)
Has the rise of the virtual world caused a decline in the quantity and quality of our relationships? Is this purely coincidental or is there correlation and causation? Do we invest as much energy in our relationships today as we did in past generations?
Both personally and professionally, having confidants is extremely important. Those relationships become touchstones as we navigate life challenges. Marche points out on average we have decreased from about three personal confidants to about two. That is a major drop.
I certainly don’t have all the answers on this one. What I can affirm without any equivocation is this: We must remain constantly alert to these trends and to the Facebook effect. We must work personally and professionally to be cultivators of all our relationships, especially those of the closest nature. We must resist the trap of allowing the breadth of our relationships to replace the depth of our relationships; of allowing the quantity to replace the quality.
As our virtual world continues to grow and evolve, the nature of these challenges will not decrease. Our challenges will grow—and so must we.
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