The stereotype is this: the more time you spend online, the more online friends you have, and the less time you have left over for IRL relationships. Makes sense, right? After all, the day is only so long, and most of us have to devote a certain portion of it to sustaining life and livelihood. So conversely, it must be those of us with fabulously active social lives who don't have time for all that Twitter jazz and Facebooking.
Or, maybe people who are naturally social tend to collect friends both online and off, and loners tend to remain relatively solitary out of personal preference. This also makes sense - in plenty of cases, online and offline friends are not mutually exclusive groups.
As it turns out, both assumptions are wrong. Several studies came out in early 2012 that found no correlation between social media users' online and offline social presence. The "time constraint" philosophy and the "loner vs butterfly" idea are neat little ways of labeling phenomena, but they are inaccurate.
Overall, it seems that the main factor affecting both online and IRL relationships is how you handle yourself. After all, it is entirely possible to let live friendships fall by the wayside if you're spending all your time online, but people tend not to let valued relationships deteriorate that easily. Going to dinner with a good friend trumps the best troll-roll.
Overlapping Circle of Friends
Another reason may be the fact that our online and offline lives aren't as compartmentalized as we assume. How many IRL friends and family members and coworkers follow your blog/status updates/tweets? Have you ever brought an online friendship into real life? The two groups overlap. While the internet makes connecting across distances easier, especially for the time-crunched, many of our online "friends" may be people we see face-to-face frequently. So your social circle may be smaller than you think it is if it contains double entries.
All that said, the possibility of internet addiction does exist. If you find yourself participating in real life less and less while your butt sort of melts into your computer chair, seek help. But an over-reliance on social media can be more insidious than that, especially in an age where people (especially the young 'uns) are more likely to text a friend than call.
A simple rule of thumb is this - use the quickest, simplest method of communication possible. If you plan to initiate a conversation, pick up the darn phone. If a quick "yes", "no", or "8:00 is fine" is all you need to say, texting is fine. DO NOT post a status update asking for a ride to work in an hour. Call or text. DO NOT private-message or tweet something that could be potentially embarrassing, because you will either send it to the exact wrong person or forget to mark it as "private".
DO NOT break up with someone in a status update or tweet, because only d-----bags do that, and it leaves too much opportunity for trolling. DO NOT make duckface in pictures, because both your IRL friends and your online friends will think you're an idiot.
Don't be Forever Alone
Above all, remember that text on a screen does not convey tone. That is the biggest drawback to social media, and may be the one biggest troublemaker when it comes to friendships. It doesn't matter how many emoticons you use, how many pictures you draw, or how many times you say "lol". If what you just typed makes you sound like an a--hat, delete, delete, delete, and rephrase.
Because, kids, although social media doesn't necessarily affect your life, it can. Not because it's online, but because you tend to act like less than a sir, and your adorable face can't make up for it over the interwebz.