Nowadays, it’s the easiest thing in the world to send a message via Facebook, instead of resorting to the so-very-old-school face-to-face interactions of the past. But is the ease created by Facebook and other social media eroding what it means to be a real friend?
Our real friends, it seems, can only number 150 people, give or take. More than that and our brains simply can’t handle it, according to research by Oxford University professor Robin Dunbar. These 150 or so people are those we can come to with problems and share our deepest feelings. The rest? They’re probably what psychologists would call close acquaintances.
But you have 600 friends on Facebook or 1,000 followers on Twitter, you say. David Smallwood, a British addictions expert, suggests tere may be a reason why you are trying to handle more friendships than your brain can manage: many Facebook users become hooked on adding friends, he says. Excessive friending may be just for show – an attempt to appear popular or successful.
And how many of them could you actually go to with a problem?
While social media is great at connecting long-lost college roommates, updating plans, or finding people with similar interests, it can’t replace in-person friendships.
Prof Dunbar’s research describes human touch – a crucial interaction – as worth far more than an online birthday wish. Social media messaging cannot replace the hands-on nature of true friendship. So, until technology can create virtual touch, you might be better off hanging out with your friends offline.