Is Facebook bad for your soul?

Editor's notebook: Social networks such as Facebook and Twitter can bring us together - only to push us apart...

Social networks help us keep up with friends who we would otherwise lose touch with. But do they also subtly push us apart, asks editor Steve Ranger.

Stats out this week pose an interesting question about Facebook: is it on its way to saturation point in the UK?

With 26 million UK users already, data from web analyst firm Hitwise points out that while Facebook's market share of UK page views has trebled over the past five years - one in six web pages viewed in the UK is a Facebook page - growth has slowed significantly over the past six months.

I remember how the Facebook frenzy swept through Silicon Towers a few years back - and of course we have our own Facebook page which I urge you to visit. But now the mania has passed and it - like Twitter and LinkedIn - has become a standard part of everyone's social armoury.

So perhaps now that Facebook is pervasive, it's a good time to take stock of the effect that social networks are having on us.

For many, they are a great way of staying connected to friends who would either be lost, or to reconnect with those we've lost touch with. Social networks are also good way for your wisdom and witticism to find a wider audience - less of an issue for journalists, of course.

But there are inevitably downsides, too. And they are not just the lost productivity that results from two million of the UK's workforce spending more than an hour per day on Facebook, Twitter and other social media networks while at work, according to some recent research.

social networking at work, it can work for your business

Are you suffering social network overload, yet?
(Photo credit: Shutterstock)

Just to be clear. I am a fan of social networking and recently I've really started to enjoy Twitter as a particularly stylised form of communication. You can find me on there if you look hard enough. But I'm also interested in some of the less obvious impacts of social networking.

An interesting piece in The Guardian explores the isolation that can result when people retreat into digital-only relationships. It contains some interesting comments from an expert describing how in this "status-update culture" social media fans don't really live experiences, they live them to report them, saying: "We're editing ourselves rather than actually being ourselves."

This phenomenon has an isolating effect, the argument goes. Your friends become your audience, and you in turn become someone else's audience.

Have you ever racked your brain for something profound to post as your status update, and the best you can come up with is, 'Eating a flapjack'? And have you then gone and posted 'Rereading War and Peace, in Russian, and correcting Tolstoy's grammar' instead?

Then you're as guilty as the rest of us.

Facebook and Twitter enable, indeed oblige, us to catalogue every insignificant happening, and then raise that trivia to the level of the profound. Ephemeral comments are being preserved in electronic aspic forever, barely adding to the sum of human knowledge but increasing the unnecessary information inside my head.

I mean, I really don't need to know you are eating a flapjack, but because I'm your Facebook friend or follow you on Twitter, now I feel obliged to know.

Socrates said the unexamined life is not worth living. Surveying Facebook and Twitter shows there is plenty of examining going on now. But alas profound insights are still few and far between. And the social network that was meant to bring us together can also push us apart.

But what do you think? Has social media been a boon or a curse to you? Let me know what you think by posting a comment below.