In 2016, “social life” means something entirely different than it did in 1976 when my social life was the most important thing going ~ or so I thought at that age. Being very connected was important to me, and I tended my friendships with some care. Back then, the individuals whom I considered as friends were a bit more changeable than now, but the number hasn’t really fluctuated much over all those years. I was (and am) friendly to everyone, but intimate with only a few.
Social media has simply expanded that circle. Today, I have 450+ friends on Facebook (all of whom but one I know in person), multiple followers on other social media platforms, but still only 3 or 4 truly intimate friendships. The rest of my social circle consists of people in varying degrees of closeness and interaction. Different from my youth, a few of those really close, intimate friends now reside primarily in my Facebook feed.
Long distance relationships in the past were hampered by the conditions under which they existed; snail mail, telephone calls, and occasional visits. In 1976 when I was corresponding with a friend living in Alaska, the wait between letters was weeks (hard to fathom, I know) and the friendship developed its own rhythm, defined by the medium. Not so today. My close friendships formed while in Kuwait continue through the various forms of social media even though most of those friends are now scattered across the globe. Immediate (“Posted 0 minutes ago”) news, live interactions, video feeds, IM, Hangouts, shares, and other instant communication feed and maintain the connection. While I miss the enjoyment of being in their physical presence, the friendships continue to ebb & flow in real time, as they did while we were together in the same geographical location. These are friendships which began as three-dimensional; the migration to digital friendship was an easy one.
Not so much for those friendships that begin in digital media. There are significant differences between in-person and online friendships, and when an individual does not make this distinction, problems may arise. The various forms of socialising that are possible on the Internet have given rise to an often false sense of being connected; fostering an intimacy that is arguably of a different quality than is possible in three-dimensions. Social media and instant, long distance communication are here to stay and as a consequence, for the sake of our mental and emotional health, we need to learn to integrate this relational reality into our social lives in a healthy and beneficial way.