This is the question that gets trotted out with increasing frequency: is the internet making us lonely? Here is a very long read about it in the Atlantic, if you’d like to see for yourself, an article which focuses on Facebook.
The basic thrust of all these arguments is that Modern People, though more networked than ever, are also more lonely. This seems to be backed up with data which charts a decline in interpersonal intimacy. But all of this hand-wringing about how social media is making us more lonely/less civil/more dishonest, whichever the argument, takes away from the fact that these tools are just that, tools. Human beings aren’t passive sponges, being contorted by the petty whims of Mark Zuckerberg. Everyone has a huge degree of agency to exercise when it comes to how we interact on these platforms, but you need to do a little investigating into how they work and exercise some degree of choice over how you are going to use them (see further reading links at the bottom of this post.)
Put bluntly: anyone who is replacing real human contact with internet communication has a lot more going on emotionally than the average, healthy person. It is not a replacement for face to face relationships and that should be obvious. Perhaps the relative easy of social media communication plays into our weaker sense of obligation to the people who aren’t in our immediate circles, but for the real emotional ties we have to the closest people in our lives, these services provide opportunities to be more connected, not less. I’m thrilled to be able to see the growth of my various friend’s new babies from their homes all over the world, and to share in that with all our mutual friends at the same time, which is just one anecdotal example of things that weren’t possible pre-Facebook (group emails, so annoying!)
If you are falling behind on making a phone call to someone who you haven’t seen in a while to make a date to meet up, this has much more to do with your own ability to communicate than it does with blaming it on Facebook: if you think leaving a like on their status update is a replacement for making meaningful contact with them, there is noone to blame but yourself. Tools don’t shape our behaviours in a one-way street, our behaviours inform the tools that are built, because it’s people who make new media social, not machines.