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Facebook, Avatars and Fair-weather Friends

April 23rd, 2010 by Michael Dyet

Hmmm, are we riding the social networking tidal wave into a new era of human relationships?

Web based social networking has gone supernova in the last few years. Just a few Facebook statistics to demonstrate what I mean:

  • 400 million active Facebook users of which 50% log onto Facebook in any given day
  • The average Facebook user has 130 friends
  • People spend 500 billion minutes on a month on Facebook
  • Facebook has been translated into more than 70 languages

We can now, at the click of a mouse, communicate with thousands of people who we will never meet and probably never even talk to on the telephone. I’m not sure if that’s progress or lost ground in terms of human relations.

It certainly widens our horizons and exposes us to many different cultures. One would hope that will break down some barriers and foster a renewed brotherhood of man.

The downside, it seems to me, is that we no longer have to actually meet someone to have a relationship with them. The relationship is compressed to fit into the bandwidth of our internet connection.

So is it an actual relationship or just cyber chatting? Do we show our real selves to our social networking “friends” or just a neatly packaged avatar approximating who we would like them to think we are? Or, in the case of Twitter, a 140 character byte of symbols and abbreviations that comes to represent us.

That may not be a problem in and of itself – until it becomes a habit. The risk is we start relating to our real, face-to-face friends in the same manner which takes away the “human” part of our relationships.

Worst case scenario: we forsake our face-to-face friends because chatting with our cyber buddies is so much easier. Have a falling out? No problem. There are at least a million other potential friends online that we can shift our friendship to.

Social networking friends are in effect hi tech pen-pals. I wonder how long it will before someone takes the metaphor to its logical conclusion – a virtual reality social network where we can custom build our “friends”. When that happens, the “human” component will be officially excised from our relationships.

I’ll leave you to cogitate on that for a week or so. I’m off to Texas to commune with the migrating birds. Real birds – not virtual ones.

~ Michael Robert Dyet is the author of “Until the Deep Water Stills – An Internet-enhanced Novel” – double winner in the Reader Views Literary Awards 2009. Visit Michael’s website at or the novel online companion at

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