06/01/2011 12:01 GMT | Updated 22/05/2015 10:12 BST

Friend Or Foe: Is Social Networking Ruining Our Social Lives?

With 500 million users worldwide and a film about its inception currently dominating the UK box office, you'd have to live in an underground cave on another planet to not to at least know what I meant if I said: "Facebook me!"

Every so often, there comes along an idea that's so colossal, so powerful, it changes the world forever. Hell, Facebook has even changed the meaning of a word. 'Friends' no longer refers to people you hang out with, cook dinner for and tell secrets to. It refers to (on average, according to the site) 130 people that you might have met in a bar six months ago, worked with 15 years ago or gone to primary school with so long ago that, if it weren't for their profile picture, you'd have absolutely no idea what they looked like.

The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics showed that in 2009, 40 of women in the UK had an online profile. There's no denying it, Facebook (whose name now appears in the Cambridge Dictionary) has become an integral part of modern society - and so brilliant and successful was the idea, it made inventor Mark Zuckerberg one of the youngest billionaires in history.

Did he, and inventors of other similar sites, actually do us a favour though? Has media social networking improved our (real) social lives, or is it ruining them?

Credit where credit's due, Facebook does what it says on the tin (read 'homepage'): 'FB helps you connect and share with the people in your life'. Much like the graphic, showing little heads all over the globe, linked by the invisible Facebook string, the site does allow me to stay in contact with friends I have overseas. They can see pictures of my kids, I can see pictures of theirs, and we swap occasional wallposts.

But what about the people who live within a 15 mile radius of me? I can't help wondering how many times a month I fail to pop round to see a real friend with a packet of something calorific because I have caught up with them via a six-word message. A pal has a baby. 'Congratulations! She's so cute in her picture!' Job done. Box ticked. Conscience, er, clear.

And I wonder, is Facebook saving friendships that I cherish with people in the West Country (just a bit too far away for tea and cake) because every now and then, for the lack of making a single phone call in 12 months, I spend a nanosecond typing 'hi stranger!' in a chat window? Or is it the very thing that is preventing me from making the proper effort these relationships deserve?

I'll be honest, I love Facebook and I use it regularly - it has its merits for arranging events, showcasing photos and, well, sharing ridiculous information about myself. I raise my glass to Mark Zuckerberg and all his billions - Facebook and its counterparts are at the hub of social interaction. We Facebook, we Tweet, we 'chat'. We just don't talk that much anymore.

By: Pip Jones