The social network

(Image: Screenshot from Facebook)

Last week I (kind of) celebrated my 10th Faceversary – that’s right, 10 YEARS on Facebook. Feel free to buy me a traditional tin or aluminium gift – or diamond jewellery if you prefer (that’s the modern equivalent apparently).

Facebook has now defined one third of my life. My relationship with Facebook is twice as long as my relationship with my husband. If my Facebook profile was a child, it would be rapidly approaching puberty.

In addition to making me feel old and nostalgic, the notification video created to mark this auspicious occasion also led me to consider the age-old question: Has social media made us more or less connected?

The usual answer is a cynical ‘No!’ But I’m inclined to disagree.

In the past 24 hours, I have wished my aunt who lives interstate a happy birthday, shared Mothers Day sentiments with relatives across the globe, clucked over the latest pictures of a close friend’s baby, celebrated a school friend’s engagement, laugh-cried at a complete stranger’s cat’s bizarre behaviour and shared a similar story, and debated several serious social issues with people I’ve never met, discovering both allies and enemies. I could, of course, go on.

One of the major criticisms of social media has been that, while it may increase the breadth of our social network, it threatens to decrease the depth of our social relationships.

I don’t know, though. Through Facebook and Instagram (I already spend enough time on my phone without signing up for Twitter et al.), I have learned more about my many cousins and their families than I ever would have at the biennial family dinner. We have discovered mutual interests, shared articles, and found common viewpoints in discussing social issues.

I have been able to keep up with school friends who I hardly see. I know who they’re dating, how their kids celebrated their birthdays, what concerts they’ve attended. With minimal interaction, other than a ‘Like’ or comment here and there, this could be perceived as a false closeness. However, when we do meet up occasionally, we still feel like we know each other. We can pick up where we left off.

And my closest friends, who I don’t get to talk to anywhere near as much as I’d like to, feel like neighbours, because we comment on each other’s posts; tag each other in memes, referencing ancient in-jokes; share mundane photos that sum up how our day is going. We keep the windows into each other’s lives open.

Finally, I have developed a much better idea of the personalities, interests and ideologies of random acquaintances, based on their reactions and comments in response to my posts. This allows us to build a rapport we likely never would have otherwise.

Of course, many of these things could be similarly achieved over the phone or on Skype, through texting, or simply by putting more effort into catching up face-to-face. But there is an immediacy to social media, an efficiency and ease that facilitates these multiple connections in the midst of our busy lives. That is, unless we get sucked into playing Candy Crush all day!

So I embrace my decade on Facebook and find myself posting and sharing more than ever, in order to stay, and get, connected to the diverse people that make up my social network.

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