Last week I reconnected with a dear old friend of mine (and by old, I mean going back to fifth grade) who is moving back to town. She is one of those friends who, if we only speak once a year, we pick up right where we left off. Which happened to be rather convenient because we were both lamenting the fact that we really did not communicate while she lived out-of-town, but now that's she back we can (and will!) be more in touch with our lives.
I said to her, well, it's not like I didn't really know what was going on in your life because I kept track of status updates on Facebook, not to mention the pictures posted there, so I even had a peek into your world.
To which she responded, yes, she even "stalked" me on Facebook and kept up with me that way, but come on, that is no way to have a relationship! Facebook is not a substitute for a real friendship! She added that she has some friends who have a text-based relationship, and she stood her ground and said, "I will not have a thumbs-only friendship!"
Which got me thinking. I love spending time with my friends immensely, but the dark side to it is that I really, really, do not want to spend any time on the phone with them. I'd much rather pick a date and go out with them. I'd much rather exchange emails. But sit and talk on the phone? Please, no. And it's not because I am not interested in what they have to say; I actually am interested (otherwise we wouldn't be friends, right?). It's just there is so much else I could be doing with my time while I am on the phone so I am reluctant to give up that precious time. So, in this case, Facebook actually fills a void for me. It helps me stay up-to-date with people without actually having to communicate with them. No effort involved.
Maybe it should be a ghost friendship?
At the same time, there is definitely something lost. Viewing someone's photos is not the same as hearing all about it, or hearing the stories that accompany the photos; it's not the same as feeling like a part of someone's life, of knowing their day-to-day frustrations, of being able to help them when they need it (which I think is a vital part of friendship). It really is just watching someone's life go by, like watching traffic go by. And every now and then I comment on someone's photo, but really, that is not like having a conversation. It's more like a token, notifying the friend that "hey! I cared enough to look at your photos! I haven't forgotten about you even though we haven't spoken in forever! Nice photo..."
So my conclusion is mixed. Facebook fills a need, but in no way does it replace a real friendship. That work still remains up to me.