If you have been around me much, you know that I’ve been very pensive regarding this whole social media…thing. There is of course the business side. I’m a marketer – I can’t help but ponder the impact that social media is having and will have on the business world. But there is also the personal arena. Why do I post the things that I post? Do I post too much? Do I use the word “friend” too loosely? Are people really presenting themselves as they really are?
Last week these thoughts became even more insistent on grasping my brain. On Hecklers’ Hangout (a Google Plus/Twitter/Youtube show I co-host with Brian Vickery) we welcomed as our guest Ellen Bremen, a professor of Communication over in Seattle. The topic of our hangout was based around an experiment Ellen has been doing with her students. She makes them take a 3-day “social media fast,” meaning no social media or texting. The students then need to write papers based on that experience. One student’s paper really has been haunting me. The student noted that after the experiment, they are feeling isolated. They weren’t able to get in touch with their friends as easily, and they found that getting together with their friends in person was a very different experience from talking to them online. There didn’t seem to be as much of a connection. They felt, in a way, that their entire social world had been a fraud. Taking away social media had hurt, not helped them.
With all of that bustling around in my head, my friend Jillian then posted to Facebook over the weekend, clearly wondering about the same sorts of things. She wrote,
You know how we deepen the connections we make in social media, first into more platforms and then into email and finally phone calls and in-person socializing? It may not take that exact path, may skip or meander around those points but generally, the goal between humans is to increase the involvement where possible.
We like to reserve Facebook for those connections that are closest, most personal and mutually rewarding, right? So perhaps if you truly want to clean up your friend list, you can look at it not only as “who hasn’t interacted with my stuff in a while” but also as “who, in my timeline, can I tell how the last year of their life has gone?”
Because YOU have to be a friend, too. Maybe your FB friends have backed off because YOU aren’t making the effort to be involved with THEM.
I pondered all of this for quite some time and posted a very long-winded response to Jillian’s questions and thoughts. Here is where I ended up.
When I say that I care about you, I mean it. While we all might not be “friends” in the traditional sense – we don’t hang, we don’t call each other on the phone, we didn’t go to school with each other, the relationships we are growing here are not devoid of meaning. When bad things happen to you I feel terrible. If anything were to happen to you that would take you out of my life, I would be devastated. Those are not two-dimensional sentiments. Those are real.
While I am certainly closer to some folks than I am to others, what we all create here is a patchwork quilt of varying levels of friendship, understanding, similar experiences, and more.
While social media can become addictive and all sorts of negative things, I think we sometimes forget that it is because of this technology that we can talk to people simultaneously in Dubai and Akron and California and Minnesota and France and England and who knows where else. For free. We met each other because of social media. For all of its foibles and weirdness, I also wouldn’t trade that for anything.
I wish I lived close to everybody I engage with regularly online. I wish it was easier to make time to make the phonecalls and go out for the coffees that help friendships grow when they’re meant to. We are in a new era and these things are perhaps harder than they used to be. Distance, real life distance, works against us. But all the more reason to cherish the fact that we can talk to each other every day, and if we work at it, the time for those phonecalls and coffees will come around. Life is funny that way. As my man Lincoln said, we can lament that the rose bush has thorns or we can glorify the fact that the thorns have roses.
I also happen to know, from personal experience, that friendships created online can deepen at the drop of a hat. There has been many a time when I have noticed someone seems down. I have decided, based on our growing friendship, to drop them a private message to check in on them, and often the trust is there. We begin to share there, and from that point on moving to in-person meetings or skype chats or whatever the next level might be is far more meaningful. If any online relationship has the potential to become a more meaningful, traditional type of friendship, should we not cherish those relationships just as much, even if we have perhaps never been in the same exact location together “in real life”?
What do you think about all of this? How do you define the “friends” you have on Facebook? What do you think of online relationships? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/nevilzaveri/4371372543/ via Creative Commons