TECH ADVICE: When social networking, mind your manners
We all know that social-networking services such as Facebook and Twitter can be great for connecting with people you haven't talked to in years, like old classmates or former colleagues. They're also good for strengthening the bonds between peopl...
We all know that social-networking services such as Facebook and Twitter can be great for connecting with people you haven't talked to in years, like old classmates or former colleagues. They're also good for strengthening the bonds between people you might have only met once or twice, or not at all. What's not as well-documented is what effect they can have on the relationships you've had for years with family members and friends. In my own life, I have found social-networking sites to be both a help and a hindrance.
Last month, I was in Washington, D.C., to speak at a conference. Without much time for socializing, I didn't call all of my friends in the area. But since I post regular updates on Facebook, one of my D.C. friends saw I was in town and sent me a text message asking why I didn't tell her I was visiting.
My friend understood, after I apologized and explained the situation. But it was a clear example of how social-networking sites can complicate existing relationships.
A similar thing happened when I got engaged two years ago. We called some family members and friends to break the news, but we figured the rest would find out by seeing that my relationship status changed from "single" to "engaged" on Facebook.
Although more people knew we were engaged because of Facebook, some friends were upset that they had to find out that way.
Now that more people are on Facebook, I'm hearing this kind of complaint less often, but it's still worth thinking twice before breaking major personal news on Facebook or through "tweets" on Twitter.
Another hazard of the growth of social-networking sites is the fact that a status update you might intend only for your contacts can quickly make the rounds. This is what happened to Dan Leone, an employee of the Philadelphia Eagles fired because he posted on Facebook that he couldn't believe the team let one of its best players sign with another team.
Michael Mantell, a corporate psychologist in San Diego, said the key is to examine how people are using these online tools.
"If it is replacing human contact, then they are not better off," Mantell said. "If it is extending human contact, then I think they are better off."
For instance, if you have a friend you rarely talk to, and, because of Facebook, you know it's his birthday and you decide to send him a message, then you're extending human contact.
Now consider this flip side: Before Facebook, you had lunch with your mother every week. After Facebook comes along, you drop the lunches in favor of keeping her updated by being her Facebook friend. In that case, the technology has hurt your relationship.
In my own life, my mother-in-law's presence on Twitter and Facebook has enhanced our relationship. We talk much more frequently than we otherwise would, and we're more knowledgeable about what's happening in each other's lives.
I'm also more in tune with what's happening with some of my relatives than I ever was before they got on Facebook.
The key is to balance your online world with your offline relationships by using the most appropriate communication tool for each scenario.
(Horowitz is the technology columnist for the Orlando Sentinel. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 407-420-5447. To read his technology blog, visit OrlandoSentinel.com/techblog.)