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Opinion

Is Facebook destroying our capacity for meaningful relationships?

While investors follow Facebook stock prices, it is we the Facebook users who will shape this new global social fabric. We must reinvest in self-reflection and in-person relationship building. We must use Facebook in ways that bring us closer together, not tear us further apart.

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Reading the similarly constructed updates of friends fostered seeds of inadequacy, and an oddly isolating desire for constant monitoring that negated the need to ask questions in person. Like other college students, Facebook allowed me to distract myself from the important by remaining fixated on the irrelevant.

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This translated into nearly disastrous results when I finally logged off and stepped into the "real" world through my public service assignments in Tanzania, Indonesia, and beyond – and I was not alone. I noticed a characteristic impatience in myself and other volunteers. Though our goals were well intentioned, we moved quickly through multiple projects on unreasonably short timelines.

Disappointment reigned when things rarely went as planned, and I came face to face with my Facebook-enabled obsession with control: controlling what others think of me through the content I choose to post and how others can interact with me through deliberate account and privacy settings.

But in-person interaction demanded something different: the time and vulnerability it takes to build trust and the focus and depth required for service efforts to be meaningful.

My pre-Facebook instinct was right. College, and life, is about cultivating relationships, which become the cornerstone of strong societies. If Facebook becomes our most common interaction space in the future, the deceptive dynamics of digital connectivity make me wonder: Are we destroying our capacity for lasting human relationships?

It is clear to me as both a Millennial and a global citizen that Facebook will continue to expand, engaging billions more people – whether they survive on $2 a day or earn $200 an hour, whether they Instagram from Boston or Bandung.

While investors follow Facebook stock prices, and Mark Zuckerberg and his developers influence our digital tomorrows, it is we the Facebook users who hold the power to shape this new global social fabric. I hope we take this opportunity to reinvest in self-reflection and in each other – through in-person relationship building. We stand at the frontier, and it is up to us to use Facebook in ways that bring us closer together, not tear us further apart.

Kate Otto is currently writing "Everyday Ambassador," a book about the impact of technology on human relationships, in the pursuit of a better world.

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