A girl meets a boy at a party. The two hit it off, and the boy asks the girl for her cell number — “I’ll text you sometime,” he says somewhat nonchalantly as he tucks his phone away. The next morning, the girl checks her phone for messages, but her inbox is empty. With a sigh, she signs onto Facebook, where she sees she has been tagged in several pictures from the party… and as she flips through the album, she sees the boy she met in a few of them as well. His face is tagged with his full name (the girl didn’t know his last name until now), and is linked to his own Facebook page. The girl clicks the link, and within 90 seconds, she knows his hometown, political affiliations, favorite books/movies/shows/quotes, contact information, and basic life philosophies — things she didn’t know within the 90 minutes she talked to him. One click is all it takes for her to learn everything she needs.
So what does she do the next time she and the boy hang out? Does she feign surprise when he tells her about the band he plays in, or does she casually bring up her connecting flight through Seattle so that he’ll get excited and tell her about how he lived there for nine years? Because she’s seen his Facebook, she already knows more about him than he has told her personally, and therefore a lot of the break-the-ice-and-get-to-know-each-other questions have technically already been answered. They might even have an effect on the way she acts around him.
Social media has a huge impact on the way we interact with people we know in real life. (Tweet this!) On the one hand, it gives us countless ways to express ourselves, but on the other hand, it puts us in a little box, one that limits us to a few varied interests and maybe a couple of Marilyn quotes. Instinctively we know that who we are can’t be judged simply by our Internet presence, but we still manage to categorize the people we meet based on a few words on a page. It’s hypocritical, and yet we thrive on the idea of knowing as much as we can about someone we don’t know very well at all.
Following someone very closely on Facebook is only going to lead to disappointment when you find out that the cute boy in your class is actually a ninja by night (true story), or when you find your crush flirting quite publicly online with someone you can’t stand. Even if things are going well between you and the person you like, it’s important to let things unfold organically and not just through comments and instant messages and the like. Yes, it’s easier to find out what’s happening in someone’s life by following them on Twitter, but a simple phone call or two wouldn’t hurt, either.
It’s sad, because a lot of people don’t really work as hard anymore to maintain relationships because being friends on Facebook seems to solve the whole issue of “keeping in touch.” Because we can see what people are up to without specifically asking them, we don’t always ask them, even though we know that their friendship deserves more than a mere glance at a status on our news feeds. We let that be. We have the power to contact people who are thousands of miles away in a matter of seconds, and yet we allow technology to pull us even farther apart.
Hopefully one day the Facebook lurking will lose its appeal to those who practice it the most, because social media is wonderful, but it can never replace a true friendship.