Facebook Isn't Ruining Your Relationships, You Are

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?


    right on, these issues existed before and will continue to exist regardless of the medium. It's so easy to blame technology for our own shortfalls.

    I had basically no friends before Facebook, and now I have a couple of friends. So it sure hasn't been a bad thing for me!

    I think that I was part of that survey. It was pretty simplistic and looked to be of the type that is used to generate headlines - rather than produce meaningful results.

    I seem to recall (OK - don't put too much weight on this) that the survey asked whether FB helped make me to feel close to my family/friends with a short range of responses that didn't provide for any subtlety in response. FB may be an enabler - but it is no substitute for less mechanistic forms of communication that (to my way of thinking) are much more important in developing and maintaining our more valued relationships.

    "if you can’t use communication tools to improve relationships, that’s your fault, not something you can blame the tools for" ...

    All good & well for those who are skilled or even astute enough to realise they need to develop skills, but I wonder how much of this is about influencing people's behaviours .

    Fast food has been sold to us as easy, affordable, healthy & nutritious for years... now, you may look at the ads and laugh knowingly that eating a double-cheese-bacon-whopper-flame-grilled-11-herbs &-spices-burger (on a wholegrain bun , of course) every day - let alone more than once a day - is not going to be great for you and could lead to some VERY SERIOUS health issues, but there are likely many people who believe the advertising... "I mean, look at all those happy healthy people eating the same stuff!".

    So, sure - Kentucky McJacks isn't ruining our health - we are... but, they certainly seem to have figured out how to influence our behaviours and I wonder if Facebook/Twitter/etc have done the same.

    It's not in their interest to educate or inform us of the possible negative effects of using their products as that would probably not encourage the behaviour they are wanting from us... an in fact they do a pretty good job @ burying that information as much as possible. Want to help me be healthier about my use of your product Facebook? Show me who visits my page & looks at my photos as well as which pages I visit and photos I look at and I may be a little more aware of things I need to change.

    I don't disagree with you but I also see a lot of people around me struggling to get off Facebook or the like in the midst of social settings - in which case I think the "research" isn't without some substance.

    my Ex-girlfriend use to get pretty pissed off at me because i never wrote loving/sweet things on her face book so her friends could see lol twas pretty funny

    I agree a lot with the saying "The Internet doesn't make people stupid, it just makes stupid peoples thoughts more accessible to others."

    I used to have friends, but then they all went and got facebook.

    I think I can still remember a couple of them.

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