Updated: Oct 22, 2019
The complaint that social media creates superficial relationships has been volleyed about for quite some time. The argument accuses online social interaction of robbing us of those "quality moments" that once defined a relationship. Now, surely the amount of time we spend with our friends delving deeper into their lives in one sitting may be compromised when we spend much of our waking hours eyes-to-device. But at the same time, the filter that many people put up during face-to-face conversations is somewhat non-existent online. Often, people post statuses and updates "in the heat of the moment" and without thinking. It's a therapist's ideal playground - the unfiltered diatribe. Because the words that are spoken online are done with a sense of anonymity and thusly, in some ways, a more true sense of self (albeit a more abbreviated one) than you could get in hours of conversation.
That said, having such an easy way to communicate has clearly in some ways isolated people. When we hear from our friends on a daily basis, the desire to reach out to them in person to see how they are doing becomes diminished or even extinguished. Long letters or chats to "catch up" don't feel as necessary, so the time we spend with others face-to-face becomes shorter and occur less often. I have clients who have come to me because they feel their relationships are strained only to find out the reason they feel this way is because, when they are meeting their friends in person, there is simply little left to say. Ironically, all the "good" topics have already been covered online, so when they meet up, the conversation quickly dries and they find themselves in long silences. The relationship itself hasn't changed. But the way it manifests itself has, leading people to feel more isolated and lonely.
So what does this mean for our relationships? It's a convoluted answer. But social media does give us things we wouldn't often get in our more filtered face-to-face interactions. Just because communication is brief doesn't mean there's no substance. Instead, we should remember that those quick snippets often show us the wizard behind the curtain, if even for even just an instant. This proposal that we should reject online social interactions because they make us less social isn't really an accurate statement. But we should learn to bring more balance to what we say and when we say it so that we're not stuck looking at one another with no words left to speak.