Social network sites detrimental to authentic human interaction

Spreading around campus faster than the latest Windows virus is the phenomenon known as Thefacebook. Even if you haven?t seen it ? or joined it ? you?d be hard pressed to find any undergraduate without friends who use the site.
Thefacebook is the latest meme in a series of social networking websites; you may also be familiar with the more famous Orkut, Friendster, or OkCupid. Other college-themed networking sites like ConnectU and CollegeFacebook try to play off of Thefacebook?s success, but are much less popular, whose ranks boast over 2000 students at Carnegie Mellon alone, with many other schools having even more people.
The premise is simple: Users sign up and create profiles listing various personal attributes. Be it favorite movies, favorite books, class schedules, purity tests, or relationship status, any element can be completely personalized or even left out entirely. Furthermore, each site allows users to list others as ?friends,? creating large connected graphs big enough to make most computer science majors giddy.
At first, these friendships allow an intriguing opportunity to explore the theory of ?degrees of separation.? Users revel in the ability to link themselves with others using a myriad of different relationships and to realize the number of ?friends of friends? that they have.
It?s all in the name of fun, though that fun comes with some hidden dangers. All too quickly, users begin to focus on quantity of friends rather than true quality relationships; enlarging the almighty social network is psychological goal number one.
Accruing the maximal number of ?friends? is a dangerous goal; it takes an already tenuous notion of friendship and does nothing but undermine it. Simply, these social networking websites distort the whole point of having friends, encouraging numbers over any sort of emotional attachment.
Another danger of Thefacebook and its ilk is that they encourage fake personae and interactions. While most any user will admit that Thefacebook is not reality and that people?s profiles are not necessarily representative of their true selves, the fact that the site encourages a specific sort of behavior is harder to realize.
Thefacebook provides a much-needed central repository of information about people; being able to export one?s entire social network into a cell phone is a great advance in technology. This vast wealth of information, though, requires an oft-neglected amount of trust; while all information is given up voluntarily, most users fail to realize how easy it is for others to venture closer and closer, even to the realm of stalking.
While stalking is a major problem in collegiate life today, it is safe to say that virtually nobody who uses any social networking site does so in order to stalk people; these sites create an incredibly useful, truly entertaining resource. Often enough, the results are magnificent; ask any of the countless people that have reconnected with old friends or found new relationships through these sites and the utility is obvious.
It is, however, the supreme responsibility of any person who deals with avatars of other people to take the whole experience with a grain of salt. True relationships are made of more than just entries on a website.