Facebook make you happy ? Not happy in a 'Woo Yay' sort of way, but for regular users of the site, does the interaction you gain from using Facebook make your life just a bit nicer ?
Personally, I would have to say yes. Facebook allows me to keep in touch with close friends and acquaintances in a way that other forms of social interaction do not allow for, you can exchange the kind of chat and small talk that you would if you were spending time together, and similarly you can announce the larger and more important events in your life to a wider audience.
Richard Fisher, writing in New Scientist, notes that humans have the cognitive capacity to maintain around 150 genuine social relationships, the Dunbar Number, but the advent of social networking allows many times this amount in what are termed 'weak ties' or loose/informal acquaintances. Quoting the evolutionary anthropologist Robin Dunbar of the University of Oxford, Dunbar says that social networking sites appear to be "very good for servicing relationships, but not for building them de novo."
Other researchers into online social networking have put forward the possibility that regular, and attentive, users of sites like Facebook may be more likely to be liked in face to face social interactions as a result of their online interaction. How can this come about ? Suppose Mary puts pictures of her new kittens up on her Facebook page, Terry sees them but Simon does not use the site, when they meet for their regular Thursday lunch, Terry tells Helen how cute he thinks the kittens are and asks questions about them. Terry also asks Helen about the cake comment she made earlier in the week when she said she was baking angel cake for the first time. Helen may feel subconsciously flattered by these questions and comments, and she is interested in Terry's line of conversation because this is both a shared interest and focuses attention on her.
One criticism often voiced by people that do not use online networking is that the sites "are not real life." This seems an odd comment, or perhaps it is just a sign of the times, was there an age in which people might have said that telephone conversations were not real or that text messaging wasn't real. Social networking is as real as any other part of our social interaction, and the explosion in popularity of the big networking sites has led to some changes in social interaction that were largely unforeseen, that the main demographic for playing online games would shift away from teenage boys and young men to middle aged women is reaping big benefits for companies like Zynga who provide free games like Mafia Wars and Farmville but then sell linked advertising and in game bonus packages.
I appreciate that are people who just do not want the type of pervasive interaction that online networking brings. From my own viewpoint though, I have been sharing elements of my life with anyone who wants to read it on the blog for 8 years, I like Facebook and its ability to link people, I'm quite keen on Foursquare as well with its blend of social interaction and gameplay. There are also a host of more genre specific social networking/gameplay sites appearing as well, Gowalla which seems the main rival to Foursquare, Corkbin, Fiddme and the like are all seeking to carve out their own niche in our online time.
I do think that life would be a little bit poorer without Facebook and its ilk, I have friends that I exchange regular messages with that otherwise I wouldn't write to, it is to a great degree the ease of use of the site that allows friendships to be maintained. I also have a friends there (and yes, these are friends that I have never met in the flesh) that I chat / message / correspond with that without online networking I wouldn't know at all. The age of global networking has allowed us all to have penfriends around the world.