A few years ago I wrote a story for Our Sunday Visitor on the growing problem of social isolation in our country. At the time, staggering numbers of people were reporting they had no one with whom them could discuss important matters or share concerns. No one. Today that trend seems to be reversing, and we have social networking to thank. Really. At least according to a recent Pew study.
In an AP story today, it was reported that Facebook users have more close friends, more social support and are more politically engaged.
Here's more from the story:
The report comes as Facebook, Twitter and even the buttoned-up, career-oriented LinkedIn continue to engrain themselves in our daily lives and change the way we interact with friends, co-workers and long-lost high school buddies.
Released Thursday by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, the report also found that Facebook users are more trusting than their non-networked counterparts.
When accounting for all other factors - such as age, education level or race - Facebook users were 43 percent more likely than other Internet users to say that "most people can be trusted." Compared with people who don't use the Internet at all, Facebook users were three times more trusting.
When all else is equal, people who use Facebook also have 9 percent more close ties in their overall social network than other Internet users. This backs an earlier report from Pew that, contrary to studies done earlier in the decade, the Internet is not linked to social isolation. Rather, it can lead to larger, more diverse social networks.
When I first wrote about social isolation and later, when I was researching my book on spiritual friendship, there was concern that we were in a downward social spiral, with fewer friends, fewer close family members nearby, and no way to reconnect. Then Facebook began to pick up steam -- not only among college kids, for whom it was first created, but for the moms and dads of college kids and everyone in between.
Now when I give workshops on spiritual friendship, I often start with a discussion of social networking because, like it or not, for many of us that's where friendships blossom or re-blossom, and it is where spiritual communities are popping up with increasing speed. Prayers requests are posted, worries are shared, spiritual discussions ensue. This is the new backyard fence, the new water cooler, the new coffee klatch. Except today we don't have to live next door or work in the same office to have a conversation.
Of course, real friendship can't stay in the virtual world. It has to become more, especially when we're talking about spiritual friendship. Phone calls and letters, face-to-face visits and heart-to-heart talks are required, but I guess accepting a friend request on Facebook can be a good place to start, especially if you're lonely or homebound or far away from the people you love.
To read the full AP story, click HERE.