I have a Facebook account. There's 148 people I have confirmed as friends, mostly old high school classmates, but there are a few distant family members and some ghosts of my past. I read a page or two of status updates on a weekly basis.
I have a Twitter account. I've had it for several years, but I only have four followers and I follow them back. I post an update on it about once or twice a month from my mobile.
I have a LinkedIn account. I have 36 connections, mostly from my current job, but people I don't interact with on a regular basis. I only check it when I get invited to add someone to my network, so maybe a couple times a month.
I have a MySpace page. I have 3 friends and until today, I hadn't logged on or checked my account since January 2009.
Now, I can't say whether my participation and usage of these popular social networking sites is the norm, but I can say that it is nice to keep in touch with a variety of people that I may never have talked to outside of a class reunion or through another acquaintence. But, its not a replacement for friendship and contact with real people and I believe that is what many people that use these sites, at least outside of the national media, businesses and celebrities, think.
The common participant is trading in their close friends for the illusion of having more friends, attention and perhaps even fame. Instead of having a handful of friends that you are 20% a part of their lives, we sign up to be 1% of the lives of hundreds of friends. So, in effect, we put everyone at a distance and justify it by believing being in passive contact with a greater number of people builds better relationships.
In technical terms, we are all choosing to communicate with a piece of middleware to aggregate our relationship and efficiently share it with the masses. I'm not sure if people believe they are no longer capable of keeping friendships with a large number of people on their own or if it truly is just the technology that masks our senses. Its not hard to draw similarities with The Matrix.
We, as a society, prefer interacting with pieces of software and new, shiny pieces of hardware rather than hold a conversation with another person. And I am beginning to think that more and more people are willing to believe a digital relationship is better. Am I the only one that sees a problem with this and fears what we will become in the next ten to fifteen years?