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Is Facebook destroying spontaneity?

While you are on Facebook half an hour every day, you are ‘with’ your old friends, and not out meeting new ones. Does this make it harder for new friendships to form? Maybe yes, maybe no

Facebook is the place where you cultivate the friendships you have already. According to a study by PEW internet studies, nine out of every ten people you talk to on Facebook are people you have met more than once face-to-face. And only seven per cent are complete strangers.

At the same time, social media like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn seemed to fit into the modern cult of career, networking and performance. Torben Bechmann Jensen, a lecturer in psychology from the University of Copenhagen, made this point at a recent panel debate on modern conversations. He pointed out how social media fit in to a way of life:

»Our lifestyle is all about efficiency today, so talking to strangers doesn’t give us anything. Instead we spend our time improving the network we have already, using things like Facebook.«

Other data shows that young people in Denmark are on Facebook for half an hour every day. Every day. And if this time is taken from taking part in other social activities, probably face-to-face ones, then the big question pops up: If we are only taking care of our own narrow social circle, where is the room for spontaneity? Are social media moving us towards a culture where there is no longer any place for the stranger, the serendipidity of the new person?

Mobilises, not reinforces

Jens Hoff, Professor in Political Science at the University of Copenhagen has researched the effect of social media on participation in politics. He if anyone can answer the question: Are social media pacifying people? Are they preventing spontaneous meet-ups?

»It is very hard to say what social media precisely will mean for the meeting of new friends. The criticism says that young people will only cultivate their own friends. But there is nothing that I have seen that points to this effect,« he says. »If you look at what groups of friends actually do on Facebook, then it is often used as a kind of social calendar,« he adds, allowing new friends to be met, not just old ones.

If anything then, Facebook can ‘mobilise’ towards face-to-face events, thereby indirectly giving rise to spontaneous meetings. Maybe Facebook is not killing spontaneity after all.

Read about our social experiment: ‘Close encounters at the student café’ here.

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