Social Networking

The water has begun to get murky. Now-a-days when we think of building community, automatically we start thinking about our online web communities. Facebook accounts, Myspace, local profiles, Ning, LinkedIn, Twitter… it seems like everyone wants to be on the online networking band wagon. REI even has a profile page, so you can keep up with fellow adventurers.

All to easy is it to think that “living in community” or “building community” points to online interaction (but, this is not what I am referring to). Don’t get me wrong, Facebook does have it’s place. I’m thrilled that I can keep up with people I’d lost touch with years ago… dating back to elementary school.

But, it begs the question: how tangible are those relationships? Status updates? Applications and notes? You are able to see a blip of that person’s life. Blip by blip you are able to laugh with them and cry with them. I agree, something is better than nothing. But, social networking sites… more importantly your computer screen… does not replace relationships formed through face-to-face direct contact

Let’s say you bump into one of your social connections on Facebook… at the grocery store. What is your reaction? Do you know what to say? When you are on the computer… your inhibitions are gone, you’re relaxed, you’ve got a quick quip or comeback… you can go get a cup of coffee in your pjs and nobody can see you. But, standing there in the check out line… in the spur of the moment… are you frantically scanning the status updates in your mind so that you can have a conversation? Are you comfortable striking up a conversation… or do you stand there feeling awkward? Do you know what to say to this person? Do you connect with them through small talk in person… and in depth over your computer? Think about it. This is more and more becoming our realities.

Online social media makes it easy.

It takes away our inhibitions. Now-a-days it seems we can say just about anything. And, the bigger the shock value the better. But, would you say the same things or act the same way with your “real-time” relationships (family, friends, professional)?

Something we don’t think about with social networking, is that we put so much emphasis on it, that we don’t see the social anxieties it breeds. What do I mean? Well… if you are solely focusing your efforts on virtual relationships, when you see the same “friend” in person… do you know what to say? Are you so wrapped up in your virtual world? Social networking, if used to replace real face-to-face contact, does not teach us how to overcome any social anxieties: inhibitions, rejection, small talk, asking for help, feeling comfortable holding a conversation, learning how to evaluate body language and vocal intonation.

It also breeds isolation. The more networking you do on your computer (socially or professionally)… the less outside you are. I know many people (and at one time I was included) who get lost in time and spend all day on Facebook or perhaps another social media site. If we stay isolated we start to become off balance mentally, emotionally, and physically. We don’t interact in activities, with the world, or people around us.

If not careful social networking can breed escapism. Much like TV… except your internet connections allow you to be interactive (the act of typing responses or clicking on youtube videos). Meaning the first thing we do when we don’t feel good about something we have to do or perhaps, we’ve had a lousy day at work. Instead of coming home and plopping on the couch, we head to wherever our computers are and spend our time with it. Our virtual relationships become a place to escape. Instead of picking up the phone and calling a friend. We log on and check their status updates. What we are not realizing is that the relationships we are building… are the ones with our computers.

Social networking is meant to be a means of supplementation to your hopefully already thriving relationships. Facebook is a great example. If used as a supplement, you can connect with long lost friends, stay up-to-date on your best friend’s bad day, you can become a fan of your favorite cause, and show a little of your personality off to the great big world out there. It gives you a presence… a way to be known. It opens the door to your next step. Give your best friend a call and talk to them about their lousy day. Google the cause you’ve just joined and see what volunteer opportunities are available.

If you are already using your social networking as a way of supplementing your current relationships, then you’re on the right track! It is important for us to realize that our virtual community… as well as the websites and technology have a place. This new technology is here to stay.

We need to recognize that it does not take the place of the people and places that surround us… when we shut the computer off.

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