A press release lands in my inbox and tells me a survey reveals "45 per cent of people actually feel that social networking makes them feel less close to friends and family". Suspect surveys aside, there's a simple lesson here: if you can't use communication tools to improve relationships, that's your fault, not something you can blame the tools for.
Picture by Craig Loftus
The survey, sponsored by Optus, was conducted online amongst 2,195 people, who were matched to demographic profiles. So as studies go, it's OK: not as good as something from the ABS, but a lot better than a bog-standard internet poll. But that's the not the issue. The issue is that we get statements like this:
The average Aussie has 165 Facebook friends, however only 33 (21 per cent) of these are considered ‘close’. Rather than feeling closer to their network, 45 per cent of people actually feel that social networking makes them feel less close to friends and family, with more than half (54 per cent) admitting they find it difficult to say the words they need to loved ones, in particular to our parents.
People might indeed believe this, but it's just the latest in a familiar sequence of surveys designed to pander to our suspicion of newness and change, and to suggest that communication via new mediums is inherently suspect. But the data doesn't suggest anything of the sort; it's just a collection of essentially individual opinions. We might well use Facebook a lot and also not feel we communicate effectively with loved ones, but that doesn't mean the two things are related.
It also doesn't mean that new ways of communicating can't improve the situation. I have family and friends distributed the world over; posting what I'm up to on Facebook means they have an easy way of keeping up with what I'm doing. No, that's not the same as a phone call or a personal visit, but it's an option that didn't exist before, and one that I can utilise regardless of time zone. I'd rather have the extra option and see it as a potential way to improve rather than complain about how I'm too busy reading Facebook to talk to anyone.
Maintaining relationships is tricky, and takes time; families can make life disruptive. It's never easy, but blaming technology just takes up time when you could actually work on improving those skills and enhancing those channels. Well, that's my take anyway. What's yours?