I was browsing The Daily Post section of the WordPress site, and this question turned up from Plinky.com from yesterday. It reminded me of something I’d been thinking of on the way to work this morning, and so here we are.
I would have to say that my response to this is that my relationships have been both enhanced and diminished as a result of social networking — and I’m going to throw cell phones into the mix, too.
Let’s break this down a bit.
First, dating websites. I consider them a positive for a number of reasons, not withstanding several years’ worth of blog content during my formative relationship years. I met my husband through a dating website, that’s certainly a plus, and I met a number of very nice people through dating websites as well, so I certainly have positive experiences to report on that front. I definitely met some weirdos as well, but that was likely going to happen anyhow. I also have been very vocal about how my time on dating websites gave me the ability and confidence to meet someone for a quick coffee and be able to just chat with them about whatever and then leave with either plans for another meeting or no hard feelings. It helped me manage my expectations as far as meeting new people went: I stopped getting all worked up over every new guy I’d meet, because while 99% of the time things never progressed beyond that first coffee, 98% of the time I didn’t want them to, either. So no harm done to the psyche overall.
Second, Facebook, Twitter and so on. In some ways, they’ve allowed me to maintain or redevelop connections with people from my past, but the reality is that I haven’t renewed any connections with anyone in any kind of deep or meaningful way. Basically, if someone happened to fall out of my life, for the most part social media sites haven’t done anything to really change that. I’m working on possibly reestablishing some connections with friends, and since I don’t have current phone numbers or email addresses, Facebook is helping that, but we’ll have to see how that works out.
I also find it frustrating that I have friends who are difficult to communicate with, and seem to jump from social platform to social platform whenever something new and shiny comes out, making it hard to maintain connections with them. Sure, this month they’ll respond to text messages (though only the first one or two, after that forget it), but next month the only response I’ll get might be through Facebook. And then if I send a message through Facebook sometime later, I find out ages after that they’ve stopped logging in to Facebook (but still maintain a profile), and then only seem to notice and respond to comments made on Twitter (and don’t get me started on how many different blogs these people start and abandon and don’t bother point out the pot/kettle situation here). And not only do I find it difficult sometimes to try to get my message across in 140 characters, but sometimes I prefer to have a conversation and while direct messages are an option, it’s not necessarily something I want going through the Twitter platform. I don’t love Twitter; following someone’s feed is like listening to one half of a phone conversation with the person walking in and out of the same room you’re in — and occasionally shouting out random quotes from things they’re hearing on a television that’s turned on in another room (y’know, retweets).
Not to mention I hate people live tweeting things. In some cases, it’s helpful, but usually it’s just annoying and I hate reverse chronological reading (and I hate email clients that won’t allow you to cut up the email and respond to paragraphs as they are, instead forcing you to write some awkward essay at the top of the thread). It’d be great if I could filter my friend’s twitter feeds: blocking the live tweeting of a hockey game, but letting through the general life stories would make me very happy. And possibly blocking all retweets. Most of the time they’re just irritating.
I also hate LinkedIn, but that’s another matter entirely.
Anyhow, third — cell phones. Cell phones are both a blessing and a curse in my opinion, as with many advances in technology. One afternoon, a friend and I sat in Dairy Queen, calling up the various members of our group circle, and arranged a social gathering that evening. Blessing — we were able to rally the troops and make plans with a large group of people in a relatively short period of time.
However, I also have friends that seem as though their significant others are of more interest to them than I am. These are not people in new relationships, these are people who have been with their partners for many years. There is no ongoing crisis, there is no emergency, but they spend a noticeable portion of our socializing time together texting their significant others. These are friends who I don’t see on an ongoing basis — one in particular, I only see a few times per year. I know I’m not the most fascinating person ever, but I do enjoy spending time with my friends (especially when I have limited social time and even more limited time with these people in particular), and it frustrates and upsets me that they’d be spending so much time chatting with their significant other about nothing.
I’m not saying I expect my friends to ignore their phones when we’re together, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable that they might refrain from carrying on an extended conversation with other people while we’re together. I do think that cell phones have really impressed upon us this need to be constantly available to be contacted by other people, and the reality is that it’s a short list of people or a short list of moments when we do need to be available on-demand. My father-in-law makes fun of my work blackberry, saying that it means I’m never actually off work, but there are so many people who would never dream of carrying a work phone that act the same way about their personal phones. And then you get the bluetooth headsets, for when you *really* can’t bear to go a minute without being reachable… but that’s a whole new level.
So finally, in answer to: <i>Has social networking – Facebook, Twitter, and everything in between – actually improved your relationships?</i>
I think I’m going to have to say no, it hasn’t — and in fact, it’s almost been the opposite in some cases. Which is quite the shame.