The Loneliness of Facebook Friends

We all know people who tell us they have hundreds of friends on Facebook, but do people really have that many good friends?  Friends that would pick them up at the airport or take them to the doctor’s when getting a colonoscopy?  Now don’t get me wrong, I do believe Facebook is a marvelous invention for tracking all the people you meet throughout life, and if it had been invented before I was born, I may have paid more attention to the folks I associated with at each stage of my life.

I think young people today grow up more social than I did back in the 1950s, belonging to all kinds of groups, starting with their daycare centers.  Some kids today seem to move through life in cohorts, and Facebook is perfect for them.  I moved around so much that I can’t remember any individual classmate before the 5th grade.   My memories are of neighborhood kids I played with after school.  I only have one friend on Facebook from all my K-12 years, but then I’m 57 and not really part of the Facebook generation.  However, I do know lots of people my age that are reconnecting with old names from their memories.

As my wife Susan told me, when I mention I was writing about Facebook, she thinks the young of today are adverse to talking to one-another directly, but instead love to tweet, text and write on each other’s walls, as if email or phone calls provided TMI.  In other words they prefer scads of friends to share bite-size facts with frequently.  I’ve never texted or tweeted, but then I’m a verbose bastard, and even feel silly typing a simple snappy line on someone’s wall.

I’ve yet to find much value in Facebook, to be perfectly honest.  When I scan my Facebook home page and read what all my “friends” are doing it makes me lonely because most of my “friends” are people I never see, especially not daily.  It makes me sad that I don’t want to keep up with all the tiny details of their lives, and I worry I’d bore these folks if I wrote about the little things in my life.  Or would they be bored?  Is it heart warming to follow a group of acquaintances – like watching a favorite soap opera?  I have to wonder if Facebook provides a kind of mini-fame, so the young feel good about the number of people that follow their lives.  But I have to ask, do people read as much about their friends as they write to them? 

I like seeing my friends face-to-face, like last night when Anne invited me over for dinner when Susan went to play trivia at Swanky’s.  We listened to the original cast recording of Phantom of the Opera while she cooked me a wonderful dinner and then she made me soothing herbal tea for my cold.  So, should I describe our evening on Facebook?  Would my other friends want to know what Anne and I did on Saturday night?  Since there was no hot sex would they find our chit-chatting boring and again, too much information?

The question I’d like to explore is:  How well does Facebook help with maintaining current friendships?  Is it a good tool for genuine friendships?  My wife loves Facebook because it’s useful for keeping tabs on all our nephews and nieces and other extended family members, and I know other women in our generation that use Facebook in the same way to follow children and grandchildren.  We have so many friends that never had children we could create group just for them, and Facebook seems perfect for this task of keeping up with relatives.

Of course, how do all the kids feel about their old Aunty keeping track of their doings?  Maybe they would prefer it to their Aunts interrupting their lives by calling them once a week to get the news.  In my day my mother made me write my Aunts occasionally “Dear Aunt Sissy, How are you?  I am doing fine” kinds of letters.  I wonder if they would have loved Facebook?

I have to wonder if people really enjoy tracking the daily events of their old classmates.  I’m curious about what happened to them all, but I’d just like to read a summary like those short where-are-they-now updates for each character at the end of American Graffiti.  My memories are stuffed with fond recollections of childhood, but I don’t think I could regain paradise by tracking down old friends.  A cooler invention akin to Facebook would be Photobook where everyone could register their old group photos to share with forgotten people in the photos or Memorybook where you could chronicle a memory of an event featuring past friends hoping they would chronicle the same event from their point of view.

If people are truly friends they stay in touch.  I think a cool feature of Facebook would be the chance to collaborate old memories, but I doubt I’d want to make new memories with old acquaintances.  Is that sad?  I wouldn’t mind apologizing to some old teachers for not pulling my weight when they were trying so hard to help me, but I’m guessing those teachers, if they were alive, wouldn’t even remember me.  

I know a number of people my age that joined Facebook and then quit after a few months.  Is it just a fad for the youthful that will disappear in a few years, or will a new generation grow up and maintain lifelong contacts via the web?  Will Facebook become as integrated into society as the telephone?  I shall stick with Facebook a bit longer even though it makes me feel lonely to use it.  I hope I’m an old dog that can learn new tricks.

Currently, I think I have two kinds of friends.  The people I will spend real time with, either in person or on the phone, or those folks who I commune with via blogging.  I tend to think blogging is my Facebook, but most of my real life friends don’t blog or read my blogs.  Blogging seems to be a communication technology that has limited appeal, rather than the mass appeal of Facebook, Twitter or texting.  What this all implies is we have many kinds of friends, and many ways to communicate with them, Facebook is just one tool in the toolbox.  One that I haven’t trained with thoroughly, or learned its advantages.

Theoretically this means we can have Facebook Friendships that never overlap the real world.  At this time I have no idea what value such friendships would bring, but then no one can predict the future.  I love the TV show, The Big Bang Theory.  I suppose I could use Facebook to find other folks who love the show too.  I assume young people already do that.  But do such friends reduce loneliness?  Are people happy just having Facebook friendships?  If Facebook has real value, what will it be like in 50 years?

JWH – 10/11/9

9 thoughts on “The Loneliness of Facebook Friends”

  1. Jim,
    I get what you mean but Facebook make me less lonely. Since I rarely have time for social events other than those involving my children, I like that I get to chime in on friends lives that I would never have time to call, visit or write. Also when I post anything- a few people I know who are online will chime in and I know that I am not alone- even though I am working on my computer. So for me, With Facebook I have friends and acquaintances with me all the time and I can access them whenever I have a few moments to spare. It may not be deep- but it is comforting.

    1. Janna, that’s a good perspective. Since you’ve had kids you seem to have zero extra time, so I can see how Facebook provides virtualized socializing. I guess in our age where people prefer to take college courses online, socializing online is another way to make the most of limited time.

  2. I think facebook uses the term ‘friend’ a a loose term. It’s just much shorter to say ‘I’ve 50 friends’ than it is to say I’ve ’50 people who I see sometimes but most of whom I havn’t seen in many years but still know’ It can sometimes feel lonely but, real life actual events are far better than minor events that are posted on facebook to give then extra credibility. The real world is still better than the online virtual world!

  3. Facebook cannot replace face to face friendships. As someone who values relationships, I could never thrive on FB alone but I do love it! I have very close friends and people who I haven’t seen in years on FB. I don’t keep up with them all but it is fun and heartwarming to see their status updates and photos of their families (especially the old high school photos, those are the best). In fact, I’ve wondered why you aren’t more active 🙂 You should give it a try… I challenge you to write on three of your ‘friends’ walls every day this week. I bet you will be surprised by the results.

  4. I have come to admit that this is one of the areas that I am more than willing to show my age. I jumped on the blogging bandwagon well before most of my friends did and was something of a trailblazer in that respect, but when it comes to My Space, and now Facebook and Twitter, I just don’t care. I cannot keep up with blogging and blog visiting regularly AND have a life…at least the life I want. I want to disappear at times into a good book or days of video game adventure or British mystery marathons with the family (all of which have kept me from blogging lately). I don’t need or desire something as time consuming as those sites in my life.

    That being said, I do see value in them for some people. My workers use it as a form of communication all the time and it is very effective for them. I know people who keep up with lifelong friends that way (who live many miles apart) and it works great for them. I have just realized that my limit for online friendships (which I do think are valuable, at least they are to me) is the blogging world and I refuse to add those extra tidbits in. I know I cannot handle it and so it is best to leave it be.

    By the way…we LOVE Big Bang Theory.

  5. I’m 28 years old and I just found this post by typing in “Facebook makes me lonely” into google. I identify so much with what you are saying. I like people in general so Facebook seemed exciting to me at first- a correspondence that people kept up with. But I find the comments and updates be so unsubstantial that it becomes hollow contact with no intimacy.

    The reason it makes me feel lonely is I feel like a dog in a cage with a steak (the temptation of good human interaction) sitting just out of reach. I smell the steak, my tail is wagging, and I’m whimpering for a bite.

    1. I am still trying to grasp the value of Facebook. I hardly ever use it, but I know so many people that do. I like to socialize with just one person at a time, and I have just a small set of friends I know in real life (as oppose to Internet life). It seems the more a person is social in real life the more they value Facebook. I think it’s a tool they use to keep in touch with a large network of friends. They are too busy to spend time with all their friends, so they use Facebook. Whereas I have so few friends in real life, that I spend a fair amount of real time keeping up with them each week.

      I think I need to learn to use Facebook to keep up with 2nd and 3rd tier acquaintances with Facebook. But Facebook still makes me feel lonely because it reminds me of how much more social other people are.

  6. I would agree with those who say seeing how social some of their friends on Facebook are can make him/her depressed. I know I get severely depressed when I’m at home on a Saturday night alone and see pictures of some of my Facebook friends hanging with many friends and girls. I suffer from severe depression and schizotypal personality disorder, so many people find me to eccentric or wierd to be friends with, it hurts. I will continue to post on facebook tiny tidbits about mundane activities I do, but eventually I will have my own website with pictures of me doing my sporting activities and to help get the word out that just because someone as a personality disorder does not mean their a bad or creepy. Facebook is great if you have a strong social network, otherwise I find it can contribute greatly to my depression and anxiety.

  7. I just couldn’t go away your site before suggesting that I actually enjoyed the usual information an individual supply for your guests? Is going to be again steadily to check up on new posts

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