Facebook has been getting a bad rap lately, but one study says it could actually make us more sociable — kind of.
According to the Times, researchers at UT Austin say the social networking site could "afford opportunities for new expressions of friendship, intimacy and community." Specifically, study authors S. Craig Watkins and H. Erin Lee say young people are using Facebook to keep up with family members and friends who live far away, even more so than a few years ago. This shouldn't be too surprising — after all, for many people, keeping in contact with friends and loved ones is what Facebook is for. But in amongst the coverage of all the bad things Facebook can do, it's worth investigating the good as well.
A lot of debate about Facebook centers on whether interactions on the site count as "real" — but the UT Austin study is a good reminder that Facebook can keep people in contact when they might otherwise have fallen out of touch. Plenty of people say such e-contact is superficial. But as someone who's kept in touch over IM with a number of old friends for many years, I can attest that it's possible to have a real emotional conversation over the internet — and for me, it's often preferable to the phone. I've also found that electronic communication can keep a friendship going until such time as the parties can see each other in person, and even facilitate such meetings. Given this, I'd like to see a study of whether Facebook actually increases the number of people we see face-to-face, and not just face-to-screen. Like any technology, Facebook is a tool, and while it can certainly be used for evil (or at least for crappy), I think it can also be used for good.
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