Bill Dorman asked me to write a post about “the new real.” With so much interaction happening online, it seems sometimes like the word “real” is shifting in meaning. Is this the new way we relate to people? Is this the new “real” us?
I’ve been thinking about this question for a long time, but I’ve had a few experiences along the way, happily enough, that have brought me to the answer I’m going to share with you here. That answer is that Social Media is as real as you want it to be. The people you are engaging with are as real as you want them to be.
Path One To Reality: The “This Is Your Life” Factor
One way that Social Media can become very real is when you find someone from your past on Facebook or another platform who you thought that you may never see or talk to again. There are several people like that in my Facebook world. There’s a woman I went to nursery school with. There are people from my high school years that I hadn’t heard from since graduation (one of them turned out to be living in Ghana!). Would we have found each other without Social Media? Maybe. Maybe we would have connected via email or some random phone call. But Social Media makes these kinds of connections so much easier. You search, you hit a button, and away you go.
Is your relationship with that long lost friend any less real because it’s evolving again in an online format? I don’t think so. I think rather that it might be easier to reconnect in this way. You can see right away where your friend is living, if she or he has a family – so many things that it would take a long while to catch up on in “real life.” One way is not better than the other – I miss the “catching up” aspect of friendships these days. But the online world allows you to immediately resume your friendship as if you had been talking to each other all along. That’s pretty neat.
Path Two To Reality: Deepening Your Existing Relationship
Over the weekend, I went to a family reunion to honor Bubba. Bubba, as so many said, was the glue that kept so many of us in each others’ circles (to borrow a phrase from Google Plus). With her gone, we are all unsure how to really keep up with each other. The hub of our news is no longer there. What we said and heard a lot was, “Well, are you on Facebook? Find me on there.” Now again, maybe a decade ago we would have been trading email addresses, but you know how that goes. You mean to email, but then do you do those group emails that seem impersonal? Who do you email first or most?
Through Social Media, you can keep up with people without being obtrusive. You can check in with them or not, but they are right there living their lives as you are living yours. It’s kind of like we’re all moving into the same neighborhood. While these connections are happening online, it also means that the next time we see each other, we’ll have much more common ground to meet on. We’ll be able to talk in a way that bespeaks more familiarity. How much more real can you get?
Path Three to Reality: YOU Are Real, and So Am I
I have to admit that when I first signed into Twitter and this blog, I was not looking for friendships or even deep acquaintances. What was on my mind? Learning how all of this crazy stuff works. As I went along reading blogs, I would occasionally see a story about how some people who knew each other from the online world had gotten together and had a great time. They kept saying, “It was like we had known each other forever.”
I must admit – I was skeptical. After all, the online world isn’t “real” life, right?
Actually, I was 100% wrong.
Over the last year or so, I’ve gotten to meet Stanford Smith, Geoff Livingston, Amber Naslund, Lisa Petrilli, Sean McGinnis, and Lisa Diomede in person. I’ve gotten to talk to Mark Schaefer, Joe Ruiz, Jeannette Baer, Daniel Newman and Taariq Lewis, among others, on the phone. In each and every case, there was no feeling on my part that it was going to be kind of weird once we got started talking. It was, as so many have said, as if we had just not seen each other in person for a long time, or talked on the phone with each other for awhile. Or at least that’s how I experienced it…I can’t speak for everyone else 🙂
But that’s what really tells me that the online world is not something other than REAL. All of this communicating you do online is with very real people. If you feel like you’re friends with someone whom you met online, meeting them in person will be a continuation, not something new. It will not seem more REAL. It will just seem better, a little more real time, and a little more 3D.
If I was writing this a year ago, my answer likely would have been along the lines of, “Oh yes, the new real – people aren’t communicating with as much genuine care as they used to it seems.” That’s really not the case though, at least with the people I have met. Real online. Real offline. It’s all a continuous spectrum.
So what do you think about Bill’s question? Is there a new real? What is it? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Image by Michael Faes. http://www.sxc.hu/profile/rolve