by Steve Adubato, PhD

Facebook is a funny thing. We call those who communicate with us via Facebook “friends” even though sometimes they’re anything but friends. People of all ages, but particularly younger people, are constantly communicating via Facebook. They friend each other, they share information, sometimes very personal and embarrassing information. They communicate with pictures of themselves, friends and family in all sorts of venues. In many ways, the way we connect with the world around us is being shaped by how we choose to present ourselves via this omni-present social media phenomenon.

A recent study by Dr. Larry Rosen, a professor of psychology at California State University, Dominguez Hills, found some alarming trends in connection with Facebook-mania, especially among teens and early 20-somethings. The study concluded that obsessive use of Facebook has contributed to anxiety, depression, and a degree of narcissism that should cause great concern.

In my view, Facebook has also contributed to an inability of many to communicate effectively face to face. Think about it. Two people friend each other on Facebook who have never met. They carry on a “relationship” online with pictures and comments, to the point where they feel they know each other and have made some sort of connection. Then they meet in person. All of a sudden there are no computers involved. They’re sitting there at a Starbucks, or wherever, looking at each other and having to make real, human conversation. I’m sure sometimes it works out just fine. But for many who have come of age via social media, and have become addicted to Facebook–like communication, interacting in person can become a daunting task.

Also, when communicating via Facebook, we can present an image or “brand” of ourselves that is unrealistically appealing and flattering. We show only the best pictures of ourselves when in fact, in real life, face to face, that’s impossible. What do we do when we can’t manage the communication in such a controlled and artificial fashion?

Further, consider the anxiety and pressure we feel to compete online with others whose Facebook pictures seem better than ours. Sure, competing based on appearance and popularity is not new, however, Facebook and the psychology behind it makes the pressure more intense. We measure ourselves by how many “friends” we have, or how many “Likes” we get. For adults, our maturity and experience tells us that it’s much better to have just a few really good real-lfe friends who truly like you for who you are (warts and all) than to engage in a cyber contest that feels like a no-win competition.

Now say for instance you’re having a cyber argument with a Facebook friend in a public forum and someone else chimes in offering their opinion or criticism of one or both parties. Resolving conflict in person is hard enough. In the cyber-world, it’s nearly impossible.

I’m not against Facebook. In fact, it has brought many people together, some of whom have lost contact for years. That’s a terrific thing, but that’s not the issue here. My concern, particularly because I have a 19 year old son and two younger boys who use Facebook too often (clearly, I need to better supervise this communication), is that they, along with millions of others in their generation, will lack the necessary communication skills and tools to engage and connect in person.

Whether it’s sales or dating, negotiating or resolving conflict, sooner or later “closing the deal” or “getting it right” comes down to making a human connection. And in order to do that, you need confidence. And confidence usually comes from dealing in person with a difficult situation and overcoming it. On Facebook, how is that supposed to happen? I don’t see it. Do you?