The recent developments in social networking sites have greatly increased our ability to communicate with large numbers of people at any given time. We now have access to people all over the world and can share pictures, links, posts and many others to a wide range of people. Intuitively speaking, one would think that this innovation would make us more social overall, as we have the potential to communicate with a very large number of people. Though social networking sites have changed the way we communicate, they have not necessarily changed it for the better.
Based on Dunbar’s number, the limit to the number of stable social relationships a person can have at one time is 150. Numbers larger than this begin to lose social connectivity, and we can see this phenomenon in social media. Most people with a high number of Facebook friends do not interact with the majority of them. They may know who most of them are, but would not invite them out to have a beer or send them a Christmas card. Social media gives us the ability to communicate with others at the shallowest level, without speech or face-to-face interaction. This shallowness, if used too frequently, can replace other communication skills, making people less experienced in more direct social interactions.
The main paradox of Facebook is that it is portrayed as a tool used to facilitate social interactions and social connections, but at the same time it can lead to prejudice and narcissism. People generally try to boost their image as much as possible on Facebook, chasing the self-esteem boost that results when someone “likes” that person’s status or photo or wishes that person a happy birthday when the two haven’t spoken in years. Many people attempt to make themselves appear popular by accumulating a lot of “friends” and others are prejudged as antisocial because they either don’t have a lot of “friends” or do not have a Facebook account. Those who are engrossed in social networks can lack a critical aspect of social interactions. A humorous portrayal of this can be found in the commercial below.
While social networking has good use in reaching a lot of people in a short period of time, it cannot replace direct communication or the development of real friendships.