In a desperate effort to get my readership out of the teens, I figured I ought to write something a little more substantial. So, here goes: what impact the rise of social networking had on friendships in this early part of the 21st Century? Let me get the obvious things out of the way: we don’t write on paper anymore, or very rarely. Not that I was all that good at it but this year I kicked myself in the ass and will – miracle – send out physical greeting cards. Am I the only one annoyed by the cheesy internet greeting cards you get from acquaintances and colleagues around holiday season? Anyway, it seems that written communication has taken a real beating. I hate to think what my kids’ handwriting will be like and wonder at what age they’ll already be able to type without looking at the keyboard. I finally can but unfortunately never took a typing class. I use about 4 fingers on my left hand and 3 on my right. Gets me by I suppose. But I digress…
Then there are event invitations. Now, in the old days, I’d just gather email addresses and send out an invite. And in the old, old days, I’d call everyone up. Now, I have to decide whether to FB or not or to do both. Why? Because there is always 20% of the desired attendees that are not on FB and will feel excluded if there is no email invitation outside of FB. It is a real PITA every time. It probably also generates unnecessary tension between folks: “WTF?!? You aren’t on Facebook? Do you also think that the CIA killed Kennedy or something? You never seemed so paranoid before…” That’s gotta have a detrimental effect right?
Another obvious effect of the rise of Facebook and the like is that I don’t wish folks happy birthday anymore, well pretty rarely in any case. I used to have my old Nokia 6210 remind me when there was a birthday and I would physically call the person to wish them a happy day. I did this for the years leading up to the iPhone and Facebook. Now, if I even move my lazy fingers over to the Compose button in Gmail, it is almost a miracle. Now you might be saying, “Fino, aren’t you being hard on yourself? I mean you’ve got two kids and an engaging job, that doesn’t leave much time for birthday wishes”. Well, yeah, but we are talking about maybe 3 to 5 minutes on average per day. A small price to pay to keep friendships and relationships alive…
…which brings me to the third and most depressing impact: I don’t see my friends anymore. Well, more and more rarely. Once again, yes, I am a dad and so friends without kids are hard to sync agendas with and subjects of conversation can be awkward: “Dude, I met this babe last night, man she was shit hot!”. “Really? Well, my 2 year-old took a shit on the toilet alone tonight after saying ‘Papa, caca. Papa caca.'” See where I am going here? Of course I can’t blame that particular thing on the net but…there is the fact that since folks are just an email away, ironically, we take less time to engage with them and catch up. That email that you want to write gets buried until diapers, shopping, ToDo lists, Blog writing topics, random surfing, catching up on US TV Series, playing with the kids…I really wonder whether before the internet, my folks hung out more with other folks with kids more often and kept in touch with distant folks. You can now object that, “Shit Fino, there is Facebook Chat. Are you fuckin’ lazy or what?”. Well, to be honest, the times that I open Facebook these days are limited to when I get an email notification of a message or invitation to something. I find FB to be content free for the most part and a significant time waster, so it is really rare that I even look at that little color bubble list on the right side of the screen to see who’s “on-line”. Perhaps its just me, but sometimes it seems to be – to quote the French expression roughly – that too much communication kills the communication. Back before FB, Twitter and the rest, I actually took about 15-30 minutes a day to read my list of favorite blogs. That list grew to over 15k pages and now I skim the very top of the list maybe once a month. I know, really pathetic GTD implementation of a weekly review but there you go.
A perverse side-effect of Facebook in particular is the phenomenon of “I am leaving my wife after 20 years because I just fell back in love with my high school sweetheart that I found on Facebook”. It sounds like a cliché, but I have an uncle that did precisely this. Talking with a friend this week, she said that in SillyValley, the rate of divorce had spiked – partially due to the boom/bust economy there but also due to this reminiscent fall-back affaire syndrome. Who would have thought? Actually, when I think about it, it seems that this is part of the reason why Facebook has buried MySpace: rather than focus on the 18-25 market of music fans or just plain college students, the folks over at FB were able to make their network totally cross-generational. To their credit, they have gotten grammas and grampas onto the internet to see their grandkids on a webcam (again – personal reference there). I think that was the Tipping Point for them. But there is that little nagging side-effect that I mentioned. One good exchanged for one evil perhaps?
I think that this current revolution around social networking will take years to really analyze and understand. Just like every revolution, there will be big shakeups and big shakedowns. Perhaps I should conclude that social networking has just become an accelerator for many social phenomena and combined with age and parenthood can drive wedges into all but the most solid friendships. Which makes me think once again, the folks that I ONLY keep in touch with via the internet because they are super far away continue to stay in touch whereas people in the same city get stuck in their daily routines (as I do) and perhaps are also relying on FB or other social media to stay connected with friends…it’s complicated, isn’t it!?! So on one hand, I have great relationships with people I can rarely see and mediocre or dwindling relationships with folks that are just a metro ride away. One of life’s many ironies I suppose.
OK so I am gonna have a beer and cheer up now :)