Facebook and Cyber-Detachment: What’s the Real Deal?

BY BETHANY YOUNG

An article in the San Francisco Chronicle seems to debunk fears that social networking sites and an obsessive dependence on the Internet have created a society of isolated mouse-clickers. According to the article, the first study, conducted in 2006, correlated increased Internet usage for work with an alarming percentage of individuals who claimed that they had no one close enough to discuss so-called “important matters” with. However, a 2009 study –-conducted by different researchers–-doesn’t show a dramatic increase in numbers of those claiming to lack such close confidants, even in a society much more virtualized than it was three years ago. In fact, study authors laud technology for widening, not narrowing, an individual’s effective social sphere.

What can be concluded from this revelation? It rings a good note to read about a positive influence of the Internet on our lives. Then again, it’d be wise to take the study’s conclusion with a grain of salt. Having more modes of innovative and convenient communication doesn’t mean we’re communicating more meaningfully, just as having fewer communication modes (i.e., just the basics of letter-writing and land-line telephones), doesn’t mean we communicated more meaningfully with the technology we did have. It just goes to show that we can use the current proliferation of communication technologies to our advantage, if we have the incentive to. Yes, it’s more about making a purposeful effort to “keep in touch” with friends rather than becoming distracted by all the eye-candy (read: material and earthly delights), whether in cyberspace or in real space. And it’s often the case that individuals won’t really discuss “important matters” with more people in their lives, even if a large and more diversified network of communication is available at their fingertips (literally and figuratively). In the end, we need to make the personal connection, personal. Gracing someone with a virtual cake on Facebook could be a way to commemorate her birthday, but I’m sure she’d much rather be treated out to a generous serving of Yogurtland.

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