Remember when catching up with someone meant meeting in a cafe for coffee and perhaps breakfast? Or maybe it was picking up a telephone and calling that friend, hoping that he or she would be home and not on the phone because answering machines were expensive and bulky and unreliable; and the ability to put a caller on hold to pick up another call was just a pipe-dream for residential phone subscribers. Or maybe, you just wrote letters. Long, detailed letters with an update of everything that had gone in your life since the last letter or visit.
How well did you know your friends and acquaintances?
Now, we almost all carry a phone in our pocket everywhere we go. We have e-mail and websites and a plethora of “social media” we can use to keep in touch with each other. To know everything about each others’s lives and all-in-all be better connected.
But are we?
This is something my wife and I have been talking about for quite a while. Months, maybe years even. Today’s children have means of contact and communication at their fingertips that we would not have even imagined to be truly possible in our childhood. And when they have childred of their own, the choices will be even more staggering and unimaginable to them as they are to us.
What is this costing us? I’m not talking about dollars and cents. I’m talking socially. I’m talking about with respect to our lifestyles. I’m talking about the humanity of our connections.
First, let me get this out there. When it comes to interpersonal communications, I suck. There are times when my wife has to drag things out of me that make a dentists job pulling the most impacted tooth look easy. Extend that to people I don’t see regularly (read: in person on a daily basis), and I’m downright abysmal. It’s cost me my share of quality relationships. So, what I may say here is not an indictment against everyone while elevating myself. My face is in a mirror right among all the other faces. Hello Pot, this is Kettle…We’re both black.
Today we have more means to connect in truly meaningful ways. We can still write letters and call. We can still get together for a cup of coffee on a rainy weekend morning, or a drink after work. You know, the old, tried and true ways to connect to each other. We can also send e-mails to people all across the world If they can get to a computer, we can communicate! It’s great.
The more we can connect, the less meaningful it seems to be. We have our blogs, Facebook, Twitter to share what’s going on our lives. We can give the latest minor update to the goings on in our lives, or we can post long dissertations on all the ills in the world and how to solve them, based on our own values and outlook on life. We can send a message around the world from our desk, our car, the bathroom, or a mountaintop. But so much begins to boil down to noise.
Have you felt at a loss for something witty or meaningful to put up as your status on Facebook or Twitter? Ever wondered if it really mattered? How many of your “friends” or “followers” are people you regularly interact with? I have 53 friends on Facebook, a handful I interact with on a regular basis. Others are people from various stages of my life I have added in hopes of re-connecting with them, but the re-connect never quite happens. The digital media is so full of noise that the connection seems to lack real meaning, and for a majority of those on our friends list, do we end up being digital voyeurs in their lives, just reading what’s going on, or do we actively participate in their lives.
Upon returning from our 10th anniversary get-away to the Oregon coast, Maurie received an e-mail from a person she met online. They know each other through blogs, and from Maurie purchasing items from her business online. They’ve never met in real life, but have started a relationship that is more than a digital touch. This friend (i don’t use the term lightly, but both sides of this relationship have decided to invest time in each other and developing a relationship; I’ll call that a friendship, as opposed to the digital contacts we mistake so often as friendship) was deleting her Facebook account. This was followed closely by another friend scaling hers back.
As Maurie and I talked about these developments, we came to see that we’re not the only ones who have noticed it. This “social media” revolution is not enhancing social lives much at all. Sure, we may get to meet folks from around the world as a result, but by and large, the real, meaningful relationships aren’t happening. The time we’re investing in them is largely unreturned. Sure, we may get a “Like” or a “retweet” or a comment, but how many real conversations get going? How many interactions in the digital world transfer to face-to-face, real-world interactions?
I’m seeing more of a backlash against the social media movement. Some are scaling it back. Some are abandoning aspects all together. My wife has taken the rest of the month off from the computer in entirely. Her communications with friends and acquaintances will be telephone, face to face, and old fashioned pen and paper written communications. My mother is taking the rest of the month off from Facebook. Everywhere I turn, I hear more and more discontent with social media and how it fails to really deliver on the social aspect.
As I type this, the irony of my posting this on a form of social media (my blog), with a gadget that will push it to another form of social media (my Facebook account) for my entire friends list to see, or ignore, as they see fit, is not lost on me.
I leave you with a snippit of my mother’s last status message before stepping away from Facebook for a while:
If I only know what is going on in your life because “I read it here”, then there is something amiss in our friendship. I welcome you to stop in for a cup of tea or glass of wine, over which we can share our lives. Now, excuse me while I write some long overdue letters and deliver some flowers! “See” you in March…….maybe.