With social mediums like Facebook and LinkedIn, we don’t have to let go of old friendships. As we move from place to place, we can keep adding new people to our profiles. This means when we go to a new area, we can keep in touch with old friends rather than focusing on making new ones.
The difficulty with this is that we tend to collect friends. When I moved from Minnesota to Texas, Mississippi, and South Carolina, I met a lot of new people. As I settled down here, I look at my friends-list on Facebook. I’ve gained around 100 new people whom I no longer have regular physical contact with.
What’s the point in retaining friendships that don’t have value? Most of these people don’t comment on my posts and I don’t comment on theirs. Occasionally I’ll get a notified about their birthdays or recent events, but other than that, there’s no one-on-one communication.
It seems like social media has become more about a public image than about being social with friends. It’s about who can have the most glamorous life and create the most interesting posts. Our online friendships aren’t limited to our real-life friend groups, they’re public. Why else do we have our entire high school added to our friends-list? Why do we add people who we weren’t ever friends with and who we won’t have regular contact with?
Much of Facebook has become about public image. There isn’t a good way to separate your close group of friends from the wide group of people who you have on Facebook. Think about it. You have your close friends, who you can be personal with, and you have your associates, who you want to be able to contact or continue to follow. What you share with your close friends is different than what you share with those who you generally associate with.
Does all this damage our ability to form new friendships? If we are retaining old friends, is there a need to create new friendships? Think about it this way: if you move to a new city in 1985, would you meet new people or try to stay in contact with your old group? In 2005, would you have retained contact or moved on? I think our ability to maintain contact damages the formation of new friendships.
It also makes us more rigid towards a new group of people. If we have already have a support group online, we’re less likely to need more friends. Therefore, when we meet someone new who doesn’t share our interests, we’re less likely to get over our differences and make a new friendship. If we’re desperate for a new friendship, we’ll deal with differences. If we have a large group of friends, we’re going to be more picky.
As I scroll through my NewsFeed today, I have to ask myself: do I need to retain these contacts? Should I remove those who I don’t keep in contact with? When should we sever old friendships? How is this affecting me in real life? Perhaps we need to find a compromise between our online world and the one in which we physically live.