11 April 2008

Social networking was what our parents did

The detractors of online social networking are many. Their point of view being, since (a) genuine friendships require face-to-face contact, and (b) it’s easy to be deceptive on the Internet, building genuine online friendships are hard to achieve.

Don’t believe me? Well, here’s an excerpt from an article by James Randerson which appeared in The Guardian’s online edition not too long ago:

“Social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace do not help you make more genuine close friends, according to a survey by researchers who studied how the websites are changing the nature of friendship networks.

Although social networking on the internet helps people to collect hundreds or even thousands of acquaintances, the researchers believe that face to face contact is nearly always necessary to form truly close friendships.”

The article quotes Dr Will Reader of Sheffield Hallam University as saying: “People see face to face contact as being absolutely imperative in forming close relationships.”

If you ask me, the last sentence is a real no-brainer. If close friendships can be defined by, say, the relationships that exist between husbands and wives, or parents and children, it goes to prove that physical proximity and face-to-face interaction are two vital factors in human bonding and building relationships.

In the virtual world of the Internet, such human interaction and bonding do not occur. What occurs online is a sharing of likes, dislikes, feelings and ideas – a presentation of profiles and personalities – in order to find a common ground for a friendship. A distant meeting of minds, so to speak.

A rough equivalent of today’s online friendships would be the concept of pen-friends we used to have when we were children 30-odd years ago. With our pen-friends, we exchanged letters, greeting cards, photographs, gifts… all by snail mail… without meeting each other face-to-face.

Snail mail is not the only difference between then and now. In those days, (a) we would have just one or two pen-friends, not hundreds or thousands as is the practice with online friendships today, and (b) pen-friendship was considered a hobby or recreation, mainly for children (although my father had a Hungarian pen-friend for a while), practised in order to learn about different people and their cultures.

Pen-friendship was not looked upon as social networking then. Social networking was what our parents did: mixing and mingling and communicating and sharing with relatives, friends, neighbours, colleagues at work and business associates. Albeit, the numbers were small: their network would comprise of 50-60 persons, if they didn’t count the obligatory relatives, with a dozen or so close friends with whom they enjoyed genuine relationships.

Today, the Internet allows a much greater reach... and almost-instant connectivity. So, perhaps, the younger generation has become a lot more social... building their network of friends enthusiastically.

[Citation: Social networking sites don’t deepen friendships, by James Randerson, science correspondent, guardian.co.uk, 10 September 2007.]


Madhuri said...

I think in most of such discussions, socializing is confused with friendships and relationships. In socializing, the main objective is to exchange thoughts, news, views - all that is required here is a similarity of interests, not warmth and understanding. It is in relationships that one needs closeness, which is largely impossible without physical proximity. But for exchange of ideas, discussions, debates, it is immaterial where the person is as long as he/she brings something interesting to the table.

runawaysun said...

Nice to hear from you again.

Agree with you 100%. Hence, I keep wondering why the critics are mixing up the two issues - online socialising with real life relationships. That apart, I'm amazed at their discouragement. It's as if they don't want us to socialise online.