Letters from Home

Close Strangers: Facebook vs. Life

“Facebook can be salt in old wounds or a second chance to appreciate someone with whom you share an important generational connection.”

Jill Murphy, blogger, “My Close Strangers”

Yesterday in my interview with face-to-face Facebook researcher Jill Murphy, she shared a painful experience from her childhood. She talked about how resolving the incident via Facebook helped her to understand:

“We all have to take responsibility for getting over things and for being true to who we are as formed adults, not reverting to the patterns and pathologies of our youth.

Here’s part two of that great, two-part interview with Jill Murphy.

ME: To me, Facebook is addictive because it seems to provide a promise of limitless individual attention. Do you agree or not? What is the effect of this attention on our experience with our “human” experiences and with ourselves?

JM: This is one of the most important themes emerging from my conversations. I think there’s a fascinating paradox in the way people perceive time is spent on Facebook versus what people are actually doing there.

Most people spend their Facebook time paying attention to others, not posting about themselves. I think we’re far more interested in others than we realize. Maybe that’s for superficial or self-serving purposes, I’m not sure yet but I do know that for most people it isn’t about receiving attention.

As for how this impacts our real-life interaction, I often wonder what it would look like if people put the same time and energy into listening to someone as they do looking at their lives on Facebook. How much fuller and happier and confident we all might be if someone spent that time being interested in you and you knew it.

By far, the best part of the coffees for me is that I get to sit and listen to people. Listening intently to someone talk is a joy in life far too few people experience. This is one of the reasons I do the monthly gift card give away on “My Close Strangers.” I’m trying to encourage others to go have the experience of time with someone, of listening and being listened to.

ME: Talk about the difference between unfriending on Facebook and how we deal with conflict with friends or acquaintances in the “real world.”

JM: I’m not sure that we’re that different in how we behave on Facebook and in real life when it comes to ending relationships.

Most adults I know aren’t very good at resolving conflict honestly and directly. In real life, breaks in relationship usually have to do with some kind of conflict. On Facebook, the break may not be a result of conflict but the source of a new one.

People unfriend for such varied and personal reasons yet those are rarely discussed openly. Unfriending is brutally passive, I think it causes a lot of unnecessary damage that could be avoided by open communication. That said, the few times I’ve unfriended people, I haven’t said anything about it. Most have said to me that even if it’s someone they hardly know, they feel hurt when unfriended. It’s tough to deal with constructive relational breaks; Facebook bears that out in big, bold ways.

ME: Finally, if you were forced to leave Facebook behind today, how well do you expect you would stay in contact with your “friends”?

JM: My closest friends barely interact with me on Facebook so those relationships wouldn’t be impacted.

Of the people I’ve reconnected with, I imagine I’d stay in close touch with a dozen or so. Another group might end up on a Christmas card list or we’d engage in email exchanges now and again.

I’d guess about half would probably just disappear again the way they did before we all had Facebook.


Writer Jill Murphy is crisscrossing the country to have coffee in person with all of her Facebook friends (there are 379). She interviews them as research for a book she is working on a book about Facebook’s impact on relationships. Jill blogs her experience at www.myclosestrangers.com

3 thoughts on “Close Strangers: Facebook vs. Life

  1. Socializing has reached new heights with technological advancements. I find the idea of this book very interesting, because for myself, I find it much easier to put my thoughts down on paper (or computer screen), than face to face.
    I personally think that the social networking “fad” or whatever you want to call it, may actually be a positive thing. We live our lives and we make mistakes, and although we may come to terms with making those mistakes(or we pretend we have), we just leave the mistake in the past. But most people don’t go back and reconcile those old hurts, mostly for fear of the other persons reaction. To me, that is probably the biggest positive aspect of facebook. The opportunity to “right” old “wrongs”. Whether we realize it or not, that stuff becomes baggage, and to not take responsibility for our actions, eventually fills up like a trash can. I see facebook as a dump truck.
    I see a change in what people are posting and in what people enjoy reading as well. When I started using facebook (in 2002), everyone was afraid to post anything really. Now people have walked through the fear of “oh no, what will people think!” and just do it. It’s like we’re walking through the fear of toxic shame, together. I look forward to this book coming out definitely!

  2. I wondered if I was the only one so sensitive about unfriending – even when the feeling is mutual. Interesting interview & new blog to follow!

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