Living alone on the coast of North Norfolk gives me time to think. (Whether or not this is a good thing, you can judge for yourself!) As I muse away, I have time to consider the ways in which we communicate with each other. Recent events in my life have shown me that in reality, I’m quite a poor communicator and that relating interpersonally is something I need to work on.
As you can see, I’m a fan of the internet, and a member of the blogosphere, and a fairly strong proponent for social networking (subscribing to Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and SoundCloud to name the few that I use regularly.) As I consider the place they have in my life as a very regular tool for “keeping in touch,” I wonder if they do what they do, or what I need. I suppose their popularity point towards the basic human need for relationship. I suppose if we didn’t need to be in touch with each other, there wouldn’t be the plethora of ways to be in touch – the (mobile) phone (and hence calls, texts), e-mail, instant messaging, video calling (Skype etc.) and social networks, such as those mentioned above, all in the name of “making the world smaller” and “bringing us together.”
Now, I probably sound like a massive cynic – trust me, I’m not. I use these things as much as the next guy, and frankly I love the fact that there are so many ways to keep in touch with friends and family. Being separated from the ones I love has taught me the value of those relationships (turns out, they’re priceless, what a surprise!) but being limited to things like phone calls, Facebook and even video conferencing have shown me that all of these things, great as they are can allow us to “keep in touch”, but if you want depth in a relationship, you can’t beat being in the same room with the ones you love.
I suppose, what social networking has given us is, lots of connections with the people we like and love, but we’ve accepted connections to a relatively high number of people in exchange for true depth of relationship that we long for. Now, this is not a hard-and-fast conclusion – there will be people we’re friends with on Facebook or whatever who we see regularly, but whereas in previous years, we’d accept that friendships were for seasons of life and that we’d have to make choices as to who we keep in touch with, we can choose to keep it all, even though it would take an unrealistic investment to maintain these friendships to deep levels – and I suppose that fits in with a culture of “having it all”.
I suppose the question I should be asking myself is, of the x number of (Facebook) friends I have, how many have I spoken to (on the phone or in person) in the past year? Who are the people that I have a special connection with? Where should I be investing my time and energy? Again, living in a culture where everyone is busy, I find myself thinking – “I can’t ring them, they’ll be busy.” And then I remember the fact that there will never be a time when people aren’t busy, and if I value our friendship, even if it means interrupting their day (for better or worse) then we can reschedule for a chat, or coffee, sometime. Can I invest beyond a nominal “friend” connection online?
I believe that we were made to be in relationship with each other, and I think a key part of that is actually being with each other. Whilst our words carry part of the message we want to say, our body language speaks volumes beyond our words. Try to poke that to someone through Facebook, or nudge them how you’re feeling on Windows Live Messenger. Having had a week back in Essex and London (where I’m from) and having some time to spend with family and friends has shown me what Facebook can’t give me out on the coast – real depth in my friendships. Sharing a meal with family, sitting down to coffee with a friend, going to the cinema with a sibling, I could go on, but I’ve made my point. So, just give it a thought – make time for someone you can see in person, it might just make you smile and remember how good it is to look at a face rather than a screen.