Last week I was at a friends birthday party, I met their nieces and nephews who I had seen on Facebook before but some of them never in real life. I realised the world has changed significantly in the last 20 years. I have seen some of these kids grow up online, baby pictures, first steps, first bike, first school day. It was nice to see them run and play. But after the party, back home, I started wondering if online social media has made my social life better.
The answer I have come up with in the end is "No".
No? I don't think I have a fuller life than I had before online social media. I do have more knowledge and more insight, or so it seems. The fact of the matter is I know about the life people want to share online.
This has had major consequences on my social relationships, that I could think of.
The friendships I built after online sociale became more flat – it is easier to leave out actual real life interaction if you think you already know they are doing alright. I remember wondering "How would Vicky being doing today?" and inviting her over or calling her to have a good chinwag. Now I might look at her facebook see a happy picture and put it all off for a bit. And a bit longer, and longer. The longer you put it off, the harder it becomes to actually do something. It is like you get stuck in this little happy bubble thinking you know all there is to know. I lul myself into a false sensation that I am a good friend because I write "Happy Birthday" on their wall once a year and say "Aww I hope you feel better" when they are ill.
However what is a "No" without a good "but", so here it comes.
But I can't fault the social media for this, I just think I was not prepared for this new phenomenon. Being a child of the 80's I grew up without mobile phones and internet but became an adult in a world full of online wonder. I was able to keep in touch with people I have seen maybe once or twice, and that has made my life richer. I have found great comfort and strenght in simple little comments of strangers.
Finding a balance will become more and more important I think in this brave new world.
For me this balance means making time for face to face meetings or voice to voice phone calls with my dearest friends, not being satisfied with following certain peoples life from a far but getting involved. Getting out of the house and seeing things instead of looking them up and gazing at pictures.
I feel blessed for the opportunity to have these online social ties but I will guard my offline social ties from being neglected. I hope you will look at your social landscape and make something beautiful out of it. You have all the tools at your disposal to build friendships all around the world, but never forget what it entails being a friend.
Dedicated to my friend Suzanne, who inspired this journey that I hope will make me a better friend.