It’s estimated that more than one-third (35 percent) of U.S. adults have a profile on a social networking site, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project’s daily tracking survey of 2,251 adults. A more practical survey can be done just by thinking of the number of people you know who use these sites – starting with yourself.While many will legitimately use social networking sites for broadcasting, distribution, and communication purposes, more people are attempting to instigate and manage friendships online.Therein lies the problem. I contend that if social networking sites contribute to the decline or decay of social skills, they inadvertently create an antisocial mindset for people as they navigate in the real world because they become more adept and comfortable at socializing in an online world.If you were walking down the street, or sitting on a bus and someone tapped you on the shoulder and said, “I’d like to add you as a friend,” you would look at them as though they were insane, or at the very least, with skepticism. Online, most people are not nearly as discriminate about their friend selections as they are in real life, but they should be.Friends are afforded special privileges both online and offline. Offline you have to earn them. Online they are instantly granted. One such privilege is knowing who your other friends are and what you are up to. This comes in the form of “updates” which a surprising number of people use to post personal information and comments.The shouting nature of MySpace (which is saturated with people who are eager to draw attention to themselves or their songs) makes it a favorite among a younger demographic of social network users.Dr. Himanshu Tyagi, a psychiatrist at West London Mental Health Trust, stated in a recent report that people born after 1990, who were just five-years-old or younger when the use of Internet became mainstream in 1995, have grown up in a world dominated by online social networks such as MySpace and Facebook. He states:”This is the age group involved with the Bridgend suicides and what many of these young people had in common was their use of Internet to communicate. It’s a world where everything moves fast and changes all the time, where relationships are quickly disposed at the click of a mouse, where you can delete your profile if you don’t like it and swap an unacceptable identity in the blink of an eye for one that is more acceptable,” said Dr. Tyagi. “People used to the quick pace of online social networking may soon find the real world boring and unstimulating, potentially leading to more extreme behavior to get that sense.”It’s been my observation that most people don’t know who they have among their “friends” on MySpace. More commonly, people amass hoards of friends strictly for the sake of appearance – the appearance of being popular. So friends can get used both offline and online in that regard.The 80/20 rule teaches us a lot about friends and time invested in friendships (which is what really defines them). 80% of correspondence that you send to anyone on any given social networking site will be sent to only 20% of the people you have in your “friends list.” Just as 80% of your time spent nurturing friendships will be with 20% of your friends. You are most likely to communicate with that 20% without the aid of a social network.Facebook, for lack of a better if not more accurate description, has become the adult version of MySpace. As the real estate mantra goes: build it and they will come. But social networks have a saying all their own: build it and they will use it for illegitimate purposes.B.J. Fogg, director of the Persuasive Tech Lab at Stanford University and editor of a book called The Psychology of Facebook has been studying the social networking phenomenon for years. He argues that what we are doing on Facebook and other social networking sites is a lot like “primate” grooming. We are building “social solidarity” by publicly flirting and socializing online.Yes, your suspicions are correct: the most illegitimate use of social networks takes place among people who are married or in committed relationships who use them to locate old flames. Actually, that’s not the illegitimate part. The illegitimacy stems from the resulting clandestine relationships that occur. There’s a lot of rekindling taking place on social networks…probably right now as you read this article.According to Nancy Kalish, a professor of psychology at Cal State Sacramento and author of the book Lost & Found Lovers: Facts and Fantasies of Rekindled Romance, many people try to reunite online because it’s so easy,” Kalish says. “Most people go looking for lost loves, initially, out of curiosity. First loves in particular are most often sought out online, she says, and they pose the most danger to real-world relationships for two reasons: biological and emotional.First, she says, when two people meet in the adolescent years (between 16 and 22), they start to form their identity together and break away from family. In those formative years, “you define what love is and what you want from a partner, and when you lose that, you lose that piece of yourself.” This combines with the hormones that are encoding in your brain at that age as “emotive memory” and creates a biological imprint of that person.On top of all this chemistry, the adolescent years are typically the years when humans start to reach their reproductive maturity and look for biologically compatible mates. Kalish argues that this in turn causes problems because people are delaying marriage. She says, “we are so far away from marrying our first love because people are waiting until later in life to settle down. When they do settle down, oftentimes, the chemistry just isn’t the same.”Perhaps this is the reason why in the Pew survey, of the adults who had removed their profile from a social networking site, 3 percent said they did it because their spouse or partner wanted it removed.My favorite social networking site is LinkedIn. It’s essentially an online portal for resumes. Like the others, it operates on a membership/sign-up basis, but is geared toward professionals and building professional networks. Unlike MySpace and Facebook, people lead with their credentials on LinkedIn and the site regulates, discourages, and prevents abuse of the system by blocking those who get repeated rejections for linking requests.It’s most distinctive feature are the recommendations that others make on your behalf to help you complete and promote your profile. The LinkedIn business premise is simple: you should know at least 5 people with whom you have real relationships who can endorse you to make you a more valuable connection to others.LinkedIn is not a cozy, give-a-shot-out, tell you about my weekend, post a stupid comment about what I just saw on TV social network. It is for serious professionals who want to network with credentialed people without the levity and frivolity that is so commonplace on social networks. It’s not designed for conviviality and making friends.Another social network that’s growing in popularity is Twitter. Twitter allows users to “follow” each other (i.e. keep up with each other’s activities) and is predicated on the exchange of short updates that can be seen online via their website or sent to you via your cell phone. I suspect that many music artists and professionals who regularly calendar events that the public, their fans, or constituents need to be made aware of will utilize it more in the future.Personally, I have yet to make a friend through any social networking site. Nor do I know of anyone who has. I’m sure it happens. I’ve even been contacted by “friends” from my past. I’m hesitant to call them “friends” because I believe it’s extremely rare when you lose contact with a real friend.Most of the time when we lose contact with each other it’s because we lacked the motivation or commitment to maintain the friendship in the first place; therefore, I tend to keep past “friends” in my past because that’s usually where they belong. Those who don’t subscribe to this philosophy usually end up briefly re-uniting with their past friends and drifting apart once more.For me, the social networks offer their greatest value from a professional capacity. They serve as a divide between my associates and my friends, while allowing me to communicate with both simultaneously. But in the end, they offer us a reminder of just how valuable real friends and friendships are, if we can take our faces away from the computers screens long enough to realize it.