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Facebook is changing how we make 'friends'

While Facebook has enabled us to become more connected across geographic, cultural and generational divides, it’s also left many people, particularly the young, feeling more disconnected. ---Margie Warrell, Forbes

The Internet has become a way to find new friends.
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Click. I just unfriended some people on my Facebook page. Unfriending someone may sound cold and heartless, but to be honest, it was easier than I thought it would be. I felt no emotional pangs whatsoever. Besides, it made perfect sense under the circumstances. Except for incessant snippets and snapshot postings about "what's on [their] minds," I realized that I had no real connection to the people I unfriended. They weren't really my friends; they belonged to someone else. I added them because Facebook kept pushing me to do it, so I did.

In order to create a Facebook account, you have to add friends to your profile. My friends and your friends are Facebook's bread and butter. As the largest social media site in the world with 1.4 billion users, Facebook brings home 1 billion per quarter in advertising revenue thanks largely to the friends you and I feed into it. The more friends we add, the better Facebook likes us. Facebook gleans through the snippets of personal data we provide in our posts, sells the information to advertisers who then feed it back to us in the form of ads on our Facebook page. Adding insult to injury, some users have also been touting Facebook as a way for you to make money off your friends.

But forget about Facebook's motives, the real danger here is what Facebook is doing to our ability as human beings to relate to each other in meaningful ways. Before Facebook, a friend was usually someone with whom you shared life, a history and emotional ties; someone you cared about and who cared about you. Facebook changed all that by creating a platform that promotes instant friendships between persons whose only real connection may indeed be in cyberspace. In his blog, "Social media, Pretend Friends and the Lie of False Intimacy," writer Jay Baer says:

Social media forces upon us a feeling of intimacy and closeness that doesn't actually exist....Is that what we want – spending considerable time building large networks of shallow connections, potentially at the expense of deepening a few cherished friendships upon which we can truly rely?

With social media users spending on average an aggregate of 700 billion minutes a month online, the opportunity to cultivate and nurture offline friendships diminishes. The generation mostly affected by this are 18 to 24 year-olds who comprise 98 percent of social media users. Wherever you look, nowadays, you see young adults with their faces buried in their android devices, presumably checking their Facebook page, rather than interacting with the people around them. I remember watching a young couple in a restaurant having dinner. Between bites of food, their attention was focused more on their smartphones than on each other. And they're not alone; some older adults are just as guilty of this behavior. I wonder what 'Dear Abby' would say about someone who constantly checks their phone when they're with you?

So where are we headed as a society in light of our dogged reliance and near obsession with social media connectivity? A study by the American Sociological Association suggests that we are heading down a dangerous path toward social isolation, if not social stagnation:

The evidence shows that Americans have fewer confidants and those ties are also more family-based than they used to be. This change indicates something that’s not good for our society. Ties with a close network of people create a safety net. --- Lynn Smith-Lovin, professor of Sociology at Duke University

A post on Facebook or "tweet" on Twitter can never replace a hug when you really need one. Hopefully, you have someone in your life who fills the role of being there for you when you need them. When God told Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply, he placed within their DNA a unique material property that seeks to pair up and replicate itself. God created humankind to have a relationship with Him, and with other people. Belonging defines our place in this world. Life is made richer by mutually satisfying relationships that are nurtured over time. We are defined by our relationships. Clearly, there needs to be a balance as well as a distinction between the relationships we create online and those we pursue in real life.

The people I unfriended from my Facebook page probably won't even miss me, or even realize that I'm gone. Well, no matter. No longer having to read their posts will give me more time to make a few more phone calls, send personal notes to friends I haven't connected with in awhile and join some real life friends for a game of cards. I'm sure Facebook will be waiting when I get back.

Oh, for the days when I was in my prime, when God’s intimate friendship blessed my house,
when the Almighty was still with me and my children were around me --
Job 29:4-5