With the rise of popularity of social networking (Facebook, Twitter, etc) and digital communication (email and texting), there’s also a rise in editorials and blog entries about how all of this interfacing at a keyboard or a phone pad is making us more disconnected. I would like to say, with 100% sincerity, that this is not true for me in the least bit. Every time I read these articles or blog entries about people missing socializing the “old way” I think, “No! I didn’t like the old way!”
Let me tell you why.
- No more avoiding talking to people because I hate the phone. I hate talking on the phone. HATE IT. I used to love it back when I was a smoker because I would go outside, have a cigarette, and talk on the phone. This was also before Nikki and Wes so I didn’t have small kids who would pester me when I’m on the phone. They could ignore me for hours but the second I get a phone call? They need me for everything. But – it’s not just the no smoking and the noisy children. I just get weirdly awkward on the phone. My brain freezes. I can’t answer questions on the spot without stammering. I forget key bits of information and I say super-stupid things. I was on the phone with someone once when they called with a question and I completely forgot their Mom had just died. I’m just HORRIBLE on the phone. The popularity of texting and email gives me opportunities to communicate with people without a phone call, so I’m less likely to avoid communicating in general.
- I can think about what I’m going to say or how I’m going to respond. Being able to communicate with someone on a keyboard means I’ve got time to consider my response. I can formulate well thought-out questions and answers and am less likely to forget important details about the person I’m talking to. TIME. I’m a great communicator if you give me the luxury of TIME.
- Communicating is painless/easy. If I just want to go to lunch with someone? I shoot them an email or a text message. If we’re planning a group gathering? Facebook group. It’s so much easier to plan social interactions online so they actually get planned which is not something that would have happened before because someone has to be willing to call all of those people. I would never call someone to go to lunch with me if I missed them, but I would send them a Facebook message or an email. I don’t like just dropping by people’s homes to see if they wan to visit, but I’ll shoot a text saying, “We’re taking the family to eat Mexican tonight, want to join us?”
- Social networks allow me to keep up with someone’s life so when I do see them, I have something to talk about. I used to be the type of person that would avoid faces I know at the grocery store. But now? I don’t! Because I keep up with people online so when I see them I have something to talk about. How’s the college prep? Softball? The musical you’re in? How’s the renovations or the new job? Facebook gives me a foundation of knowledge for people that I might not get otherwise, and this makes maintaining friendships so much easier. When I see someone I can jump right in with a relevant question about their current life so it’s comfortable and familiar. Facebook is especially instrumental in this which is why I tend to scoff when I see people talking about how Facebook makes them less connected because it fosters more solid connections in my life.
- Let’s me see connections I wouldn’t normally see. I love finding out that a running buddy loves Harry Potter or that a book club member watches Doctor Who. Sometimes you find out this stuff in face-to-face interactions, but often I just notice it on Facebook or Twitter. And then, I think, that person I would normally only see at theatre meetings likes the same books I do and I’ll foster a closer relationship with them because of that bond. Of course, it can also work the other way, which is why I don’t like sending friend requests unless I know for sure you have stuff in common with me. I’ve learned that casual contacts are anti-gay rights through Facebook and that’s such an important cause in my life that it dampers deeper relationship potential. But…that’s a time saver too, I guess. I can’t get too close to someone who wouldn’t want my friends and family to have equal rights, so might as well find that out early on! Just like how if you post something about loving John Green I’m going to want to get you a BFF charm bracelet. The extra knowledge a Facebook profile can give me is essential in determining whether or not I’ll email you stupid jokes about pranks to play on a Whovian.
- I can revisit social encounters. This is the best part, to me. When I do have an awkward phone call or run-in, I can re-establish the communication online. Before – you just had to wait until the next time you saw that person to mend the faults created with an awkward encounter. (And trust me. I had/have a LOT of awkward encounters. I’m seriously not good on the spot.) When it happens now? I can send an email or a text. I can write a Facebook message that says, “Sorry I wasn’t encouraging when we spoke this morning…” which is exactly what I did this week. I am the kind of person that thinks of the perfect response and hour later. Or even worse: I think of the most HORRIBLE response in that moment instead of just not saying anything at all. But when all of those wonderful social screw-ups happen now? I can rectify them when I have time with my phone keypad or an email. This keeps an embarrassing moment from lingering over my head and allows me to right a wrong before the next time I see someone.
So…Yeah. Maybe for some people this digital age of communication has made them less personable, less in touch, less social. But for me? It’s done just the opposite. My social anxieties aren’t as severe. My circle of friends is not as small. My love of people is greater and my social calendar more active. Of course, I have to be deligent about this. I keep my Facebook friends organized into groups so that it’s easier to keep up with the people I might see regularly, versus my high school classmates who I’ll only see every few years. I try to respond to emails immediately, but this is inhibited by the ability to check my email on my phone. Often I’ll see one on my phone but am unable to respond in the necessary length and then have kinda forgotten the immediacy by the time I get to a computer. I’ll still respond, but it might be late. This all doesn’t make me perfect at socializing by any means, but it does make me better…not worse.