Overrated: Social networking can't replace a face to face

Of the more than 150 "friends" I have on Facebook, I only talk on the phone to half a dozen. I break bread regularly with exactly one of them.

Although "social networking" is a hot buzzword right now, critics claim, rightly I think, that the premise discourages actual relationships in favor or the quick fix. In other words, real, face-to-face relationships take time to develop, are messy, and require some actual work. Social networking relationships are quick and painless -- you show your best face, divulge the version of your life you want your circle to see, and feel satisfied with the easy "information dump" once or twice to catch up, before your "friend" slides back into obscurity.

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Don't get me wrong. I spend a lot of time on my Facebook page. I enjoy downloading pictures of my kids for friends and colleagues to see and making clever conversation with selected individuals. Nobody wastes more time playing "Scrabulous" (even the compromised "approved" version now running) and sending cupcakes to various people. The operative word here is "overrated." I understand it for what it is: basically a networking tool (and a great way to fritter away time when I should be working.) Social networking is not the next generation of inter-connectivity. It is not going to solve the world's woes. It probably won't get you a date for Saturday night. Not a meaningful date, anyway.

Nope. For that you have to turn your computer off and venture into the real world to interact with actual flesh and blood. But maybe I'm all wrong. Twenty years out of college, I am not the generation Facebook was designed for, and yet many of my colleagues, past and present, grad-school chums and random acquaintances in my age-group all enthusiastically take part. We all enjoy connecting with each other again. But for us it's more about nostalgia. In our day, we called it "keeping in touch." Our social networking meant a Christmas card or a high school reunion.

I wonder, however, if I'm woefully old-fashioned. The three or four college-aged friends I have on Facebook (various cousins, nieces and one work colleague) have hundreds of "friends." Maybe this kind of superficial connection is the norm for young people today, growing up as they have with instant communication tools like email, text messages and IM. I wonder if my kids' generation -- they'll be in college about ten years from now- will appreciate the difference between a real friendship and a "social networking" one. Because the gulf between the two is actually huge.
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