Talk About This Today: Facebook Doesn’t Have to Make Us Lonely… Or Full of Ourselves

Posted by on May 30, 2012 in General, Interpersonal Communication | 7 comments

Smiling, talking on the phone, possibly posting a Facebook update... maybe a virtual lunch!

(Bringing back news you can talk about! Start a conversation about this with someone today–hopefully on the phone or, better yet, face-to-face, given the context of the topic. I haven’t tapped into general interpersonal talk in a while, and this piece has been on my mind, so here goes!).

When you teach Communication, the subject of Facebook inevitably arises.

From ’07-April ’11, I was absent from the Facebook scene and students did not let me hear the end of it. I told them, “I’m online all the time. I just don’t want my face in front of a computer any more than it has to be.”

“Plus that,” I added. “I really like people. I like their faces and voices. I like talking with them in person.”

Well, writing a book and a blog changed my tune. I had to be on social media.

My personal use of Facebook is pretty limited. Come to think of it, my professional use of Facebook is, too. I don’t update my own status that often, except to post about my blog or someone else’s, or my running (penguin waddling). I enjoy replying to other people’s updates and I check Facebook for those far more often than I should.

One of the things I don’t like about Facebook is that, yes, I do believe that it is negatively altering real communication. Not for me because I won’t allow it to, but many of my students admit that it has for them. This piece in The Atlantic Is Facebook Making Us Lonely? caught my attention and it is a piece I will use in class with both of my Interpersonal Comm courses come fall (ironically, one is hybrid–part online and part on-campus–and the other is fully online. Crazy, eh?).

Read the piece and I’d love to hear what you think. I think the author does a good job tackling both sides of the argument. If Facebook is making us lonely and even somewhat narcissistic, as the piece wrestles, then I say it doesn’t have to. Here’s why:

1.  Facebook can promote other-orientation… in tandem with a little narcissism.

I don’t update much, but when I do, the updates are All. About. Me. Here’s what I’m blogging. Here’s how far I’m running. Here’s what I. Am. Doing. (I do post others’ blogs, but that’s on the Chatty Professor FB page; Twitter is a different story. My ratio of sharing others’ material over my own is easily 80/20 and some days 100 others!). I’m not saying there is anything wrong with posting what’s happening in our lives. It is how we share, how we connect, and, for me, particularly with my running, saying what I’m doing is how I get support, which I admit that I need. However, some of my FB friends, like Christian Hollingsworth (@smartboydesigns), post questions to promote other-orientation i.e., “What makes you beautiful?” David McGraw (@davidmcgraw) recently asked “Do things have to make sense in order to believe?” to start some conversation and Peg Fitzpatrick (@pegfitzpatrick) posted a fun question: “Sweet relish or dill relish? Discuss…”

Of course, we should share our photos, our events, our world, but I know that in real life, my conversations are a two-way street. If I post more on Facebook, I’m going to strive to first initiate interaction. How about you?

2. Facebook can provide appropriate comparison points so we don’t feel so inadequate over the inappropriate reference points.

One of my favorite parts of The Atlantic piece? One Facebook researcher lamented that she believes her friends’ kids are “accidentally eloquent,” their husbands “endearingly bumbling,” and everyone is eating farmer’s market food, then going jogging before they check in at the office. So, everyone has a perfect life on Facebook! And our lives are poo in comparison!

I have definitely felt this way when perusing Facebook. Then I realized that I’m doing plenty of fine… and boring things that I just don’t happen to be posting. So, my heading was a little misleading: Facebook can’t help us feel less inadequate, but the timestamp of others’ posts can. Think of what you did all day and think of what others probably did all day when they weren’t posting that one update. Or don’t think about anyone’s updates and just be too busy living the updates… boring or exciting as they may be.

3.  Facebook can make us less lonely if we use it as a communication bridge for real life interactions.

If I had my way, for every one Facebook post, two phone or in-person interactions would occur. Not realistic, but it could happen some of the time, couldn’t it? For example, a former student of mine is home for the summer. We communicated on Facebook, talked on the phone, and then met up in person a couple times already. That will likely be our communication pattern while this student is here this summer. My friend Bruce Sallan (@brucesallan; #DadChat), who I know from Twitter and have never met, lives in California. I’ve spoken to him on the phone for business, but he’s becoming a friend! Recently, he posted this Facebook update, “I want to meet someone for lunch.”

You know, I was thinking, if Bruce didn’t end up with a lunch date, would it be so unreal for us to have a “virtual lunch date” (Okay, mute on the chomping…)? In fact, with so much social media going on and people so connected all over the place, why can’t Facebook be a catalyst for phone or Skype lunch dates? I would like to see Facebook create more transitions between technologically mediated and “IRL” communication and have each interaction richer as a result of both dynamics. Why not?

If The Atlantic piece has a shred of truth to it and people are feeling more disconnected and lonely due to Facebook or technology, in general, then the way to remedy that is simply to reconnect.

I really can’t wait to get back into the classroom in the fall and see what my students have to say about this article.

What do you have to say?


  1. I am not on Facebook and don’t plan to be. I also haven’t read the Atlantic article. My introduction to Facebook was through very high end Architectural Design clients who were frantically trying to monitor what their kids were doing there. It all sounded quite clandestine on their part. Given the privacy issues these clients had, it would have been 100% inappropriate for me to sign up. That maybe a bit different today, now that it has all become more mainstream but I don’t feel any compelling need to belong. I’m beginning to think there is actually an exclusivity to not belonging. I did however initiate (others do it) a small presence for our non profit Bank-On-Rain on Facebook just for posting posts, just added exposure I told myself and exposure I don’t need for myself personally.

    I have in fact invited people for virtual lunches ~ talk at lunch time on the phone while we eat our respective fare. I did this years ago with my mother who lived in the UK ~ we’d have teatime together and I’d spend on the phone call the cost of taking her out to tea (she was OK with that:-)

    So virtual lunch is fine, but only just until we can arrange things to meet in Real Life. If you happen to be in Bellevue this Friday, we could have lunch, a real one that is:-)

    • Hello!
      Thank you so much for writing. I’m late on the draw this week, living some “real life” for my daughter’s 9th birthday :-) . I’d love to take a raincheck or lunch–my mother is in town, finishing up a 10 day visit.

      We sound like we have parallels for our reticence about Facebook. I agree that there is an exclusivity in not belonging. I see the same thing with texting. I didn’t text for the longest time and I still HATE it! In fact, on many occasions, I simply refuse to continue and will just pick up the phone and say, “I’m not texting any more.” do you feel the same about texting?

      I’m in West Seattle. Let’s plan that lunch!

  2. We have had one phone conversation, Ellen – and that Skype/Google+ Hangout can’t be far behind!

    I have seen and read about the behaviors you describe. It is amazing how folks can still be self-centered by reading about other people and immediately comparing them against their own happiness/success in life.

    Me, I just do it for fun. Be who I am with people I like…stay away from the polarizing conversations…then share coffee/wine with the wife, enjoy a movie with my girls, or hit the gym and tennis court!

    • Hi, Brian,

      I always enjoy your updates on Facebook, although I have to admit, I do say, “Why can’t my exercise be as good?” when I see how well you’re doing there :-) . I mean, it doesn’t keep me up nights or anything, but I do check myself and say, “Hey, what am I doing?” This can be for the positive, too, right? We can get motivated to do something different.

      I’m still not on Google+, but I am on Skype. And I’m there for the virtual lunch, breakfast, or coffee :-) .

  3. Just added your blog to some of my recommended reading to students this summer. Thanks for the good advice, both to students and to profs.

    • Hi, Nancy,

      Thank you so much for writing! I sure do appreciate your kind words and if there are any particular subjects that I can tackle, I’m up for it! :-)


  4. I blog often and I genuinely appreciate your content. This great article has really peaked my interest. I will book mark your blog and keep checking for new information about once per week. I subscribed to your Feed as well.

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