We live in a world that’s more connected than ever. Our voices are heard loud and clear; we can speak about any topic we like (or don’t) on any number of platforms. Our opinions and views are instantly global.
Thanks to platforms like Twitter, Google+, Instagram and new kid on the block Pinterest, we can intersect with people all over the world and build relationships with them. A bit like instant pen pals, really.
Take Twitter for example. I tweet regularly with people from the UK (@naturalgrump and @changecontinuum, I’m looking at you!). I found these wonderful people via timeline searches when I was working in learning and development, and looking for thought-leaders and peers. While I am (for the time being, anyway) not working in that area, my relationship with them on Twitter continues.
There are other Twitter folk from around Australia that I tweet regularly: I have an iFamily, which consists principally of @_kezm (iSis), @garydlum and @sirleachalot (iBros) on the eastern seaboard. I have connected at a local level with a number of Adelaide Twitter people, and they have become great friends (@KristySlater, @TaschaD, @DanaeSinclair and @Trimbowlme before he fell in love). We not only socialise regularly, but we support each other during trying and good times, both on- and offline.
And yet.. and yet… there is an element of narcissism and selfishness in the forging of online relationships. Any initial connection is based, primarily at least, on checking what is being said about you or in response to you, by whom and in what timeframe. Let me explain. If I tweet something, or tweet to someone, I expect people to respond back pretty quickly, and I check. Sometimes, people don’t get back because they are busy, or can’t be bothered, or are otherwise occupied, or are in love (see @Trimbowlme). And it can be disappointing when people don’t respond quickly, or not at all.
Sometimes, someone I like online becomes someone who I don’t. It may be due to a clash of values (most likely), or that they are irritating (sometimes the case), or that I no longer find them interesting or relevant. It happens back to me, as well. In the push of a button, someone is no longer in my timeline (or I in theirs), and hence my life (or theirs). It’s confusing when verbosity is replaced by a vacuum, or even viciousness. The nature of social media means that people can be cut loose easily and quickly.
And that can be hurtful at the very least, gut wrenching at the most. We think that people care about us, when often, this is not the case. Often, what they care about is their follower numbers, their status updates, how many mentions they had on Google Alert, or how many +Ks they received. Social media is, invariably, about numbers. And as we all know, once numbers are the primary driver, caring goes out the window.
I am grateful that the online people I invariably choose to share my offline life with are authentic, and don’t care about numbers. Instead, we choose to care about each other. And in an increasingly disconnected and fragmented world, there’s something old-fashioned, homely and comforting about that. And just plain nice.