On a recent trip I began reflecting on social media and being social ‘in the real world’. What follows is a somewhat rambling capture of those thoughts.
While there are varying degrees of concern that people who habitually play violent video games are more inclined to violence, there is no similar concern that people who IM or update Facebook constantly are going to become more loquacious and gregarious in real life. In fact it is the opposite that seems to be the case – the IMers tend to be withdrawn and somewhat socially inept. Why is this?
Both LinkedIn and Facebook attract people who don’t really understand the intent of social media but who seem to just be compulsive list makers or collectors. My LinkedIn inbox constantly sees requests from vendors who apparently are just dumping their contact lists into LinkedIn and requesting to network. Sorry, no. I am pretty strict in LinkedIn at only accepting connections for people I have actually met and could provide a recommendation for (isn’t that the intent of LinkedIn anyway?). Facebook hoarders seem to just send out friend requests to everyone who share a common school or workplace or surname. Again, I only ‘friend’ people I have actually met and care to hear from. I recently got a friend request from a co-worker who in real life won’t look me in the eye or respond when I greet them in the hallway. Anti-social in real life, but what to be my friend online? No thanks. It is also kind of creepy to get monthly friend requests from people I have never met – what do they want? And why don’t they get the message.
In recent years I have had old acquaintances approach me via social media and my blog. In most cases, it works out very amicably and it is nice to catch up with the individual. In other cases, it seems to start out fine and then goes amiss. A few examples:
A former co-worker that I hadn’t heard from in probably a decade left a comment on my blog about catching up. I responded in kind and exchanged several emails with her about the interval between our last contact. She announced that she was going to be in town and wanted to meet up with me and another co-worker for lunch. We met and had a nice conversation. I sent a followup email and got a very terse response. A few weeks after that, she deleted her email account, changed her LinkedIn status to ‘peon’ and moved away, never to be heard from again. What was the point of that whole episode?
In another case, a woman that I went out with briefly in college contacted me via LinkedIn. She seemed kind of depressed at having just lost her job (and not having luck finding a new one) and seemed to want to connect with the past for some reason. We emailed back and forth with me trying to be supportive and not getting too entangled in her venomous tirades against being single, jobless and largely friendless. Then, a few days before February 14th, I got a scathing email missive from her about how I ruined her life by not sending her flowers for Valentine’s Day when I was in college. Really? Not that I was living off of about $30 a week and eating meals out of a vending machine. If I had the money to spare, I probably would have – but I didn’t, so I couldn’t. After the VD missive, no further word from her. Was that really the purpose of contacting me? To blame me for every bad thing that has happened to her in the last two decades? I don’t get it. I am no saint, but I also don’t think I have that kind of influence over people or events.
The last example happened on Facebook. Another woman I dated in college sent me a friend request that I accepted. After the usual quick history exchanges, we would regularly comment on each others postings on Facebook as we share a number of common interests and a similar sense of humor. This went on for about a year, then suddenly not only did she unfriend me, but banned me in FB. The only reason that I can think of is because I told her (via a private message) that she looked great in her new profile photo, but that quality of the photo was low. Seriously? What kind of vanity or insecurity does that reveal? I would have never thought that paying someone a compliment would create that sort of response. But as the previous examples show, people can behave erratically online as in real life. Disappear here, indeed.
When I travel, I like to try to connect with fellow travelers. Trains seem to be an excellent ‘social medium’ for these conversations. I’ve had some great conversations with folks from Uruguay, Chile, New Zealand, and Wales (to name a few) to pass the time while on the rails. But sometimes, there is a bit of a disconnect. On a recent trip, two women sat down next to my wife, daughter and I on a very full train. They were speaking English and the conversation I was having with my daughter made it clear that we shared a common language. The older of the two women didn’t say a word to us, sat down, crossed her arms and stared off into space. The younger one sat across the aisle furiously updating Facebook, sending emails and reviewing photos on her phone. After about an hour of silence I asked her where she was from and she looked at me in utter surprise that I had spoken to her. Again, social online, deer-in-the-headlights in real life. After a while, I let her to most of the talking about what she had been doing in Spain since August (apparently not a lot).
Photography is another shared interest that has led to some real life encounters. I have been using Flickr for years and at one time there was a very active ‘Living In Cincinnati‘ group that would occasionally have meetups for fun and photo ops. One member of the group even arranged for some of group members to have their photos exhibited at a local coffee shop (me included!). I actually wound up selling one of my prints because of the exhibit. My observation about photographers in the digital age: the ones who think they are really good aren’t; the ones who really enjoy taking and sharing images are a delight to hang out with. I’ll take laid-back and playful to the ‘You can tell I am an awesome photographer because I have a $5K camera that I never take out of auto-mode’ and ‘I spend hours in Photoshop tricking up an image because I don’t know what composition is’ annoyances. Unfortunately, I don’t seem to have the time to visit/contribute to Flickr as much as I did previously. From what I can tell, the LiC core members seem to have moved on as well as there is little or no activity on the group RSS feed.
I am an avid Vespa rider and participate in both the local and international scooter discussion sites. These are a great way to keep in touch with folks that you might only see a handful of times a year at a scooter rally. These are really not much more than old-school bulletin board systems and perhaps the simplicity of it is what makes it work so well. Maybe someone will come up with a social media site for riders – Scootr, perhaps?
One thing I observed in Spain is that Spanish women will look you in the eye when they walk down the street. I like that. Beats the ‘hundred yard stare’ that most American women sport. Dunno, somehow it makes them seem more alive and engaged rather than always merely on their way somewhere. This made me think of what could be the future of social media/real world interactions. What if there was an augmented reality application like Layar, but people focused rather than building focused. So you could hold your phone up in a crowd and using face recognition or some sort of near field technology you would get an overlay of the interests, language, etc of the people in the crowd. This would be a cool way of tying online social profile to real life interactions. I’d buy that app!
community, ideas, internet, socialsoftware