"There are people from my past life that I never would have tracked through 10 job changes and 20 e-mail changes," says Nicole Ellison, an assistant professor at Michigan State and lead author of the Facebook "Friends" study, which focused on undergraduate usage of the site. Facebook offers what she describes as a "seamless way of keeping in touch that doesn't involve all this work."
Cool article from TIME about the role that facebook and other social networking sites play in people's lives. Many of those who are anti-facebook argue that it is simply a waste of time or, more importantly, that it de-values actual communication. Proponents, of course, argue just the opposite. Ultimately the author, Lisa Davis, comes to the conclusion that facebook is a good thing because it does, in fact, enhance relationships rather than limit them. I'd have to agree.
On one hand, nothing can really replicate actual face to face interation with someone else. If you really want to be a part of another person's life (whether it be a friend, relative, significant other, whatever) you need to spend a significant amount of time with that person. So clearly face to face contact is the best way to increase social interaction.
However, this does not answer the question of whether facebook brings people together or increases isolation. In order to determine this the question becomes what the facebook user would be doing if he/she was not facebooking. Although emperical data is lacking, chances are said facebooker would likely be watching TV, playing a video game, or surfing the web rather than spending quality time with another human being.
In fact Bowling Alone by Robert Putnam addresses this very issue. In this groundbreaking book, published in 2000 (before the explosion in popularity of social networking sites), Putnam shows that over the last 25 years we, as a society, have signed fewer petitions, belonged to fewer organizations that meet, known our neighbors less, met with friends less frequently, and even socialized with our families less often. In fact the title of the book, Bowling Alone, comes from the fact that although the number of people bowling across the country has risen, a higher percentage of them are bowling alone. He goes on to theorize factors that may have contributed to this phenomenon of increased isolationism but the bottom line is that we, as a culture, are spending less time with others (or at least were up to the time the book was published) and losing "social capital".
Therefore, the "Web 2.0" explosion, highlighted by the expansion of social networking, sites has begun to reverse this trend by allowing people to interact more. Sure, face to face time may never again reach the levels of the 40s or 50s, but that does not mean that time spent on facebook can not increase social capital. Seeing newly "Status Updates" pop up on the "News Feed" will only remind someone to reach out to that old friend, relative, or even neighbor he/she hasnt seen in a while. Additionally, posted pictures can even enhance a relationship moreso than the "old-fashioned" telephone call.
So while the arguement can be made against facebook that actual face to face interaction superseeds any kind of pseudo interaction through facebook, social capital built through stalking on facebook and discussing later (or never) is still better than none at all.