6 degrees from reality


The people I know are strangers

I was at a function about 6 months after I left my insanely hectic corporate job when a friend mentioned to me  that this was the first time we had had a real conversation – not in real life, but beyond the polite niceties that we had grown accustomed to.  It was also the first time that I had asked him about his family.  We’ve known each other for 3 years since the launch of the first Twitter Blanket Drive.

What on earth had we been speaking about for 3 solid years on Twitter?  Apparently nothing important at all as it turns out.

I am have a more-than-average fixation with social media.  I scan my Twitter feed for news updates before I reach for a newspaper or turn on the news radio reports.  I scroll through my friends FaceBook statuses to check that they’re all alive and well every morning before I brush my teeth – there is some solice in knowing that “nothing much has changed”.  My LinkedIn news updates provide me with business updates around the globe and my AdAge feed keeps me well informed of advertising and media on all counts.  This dumping of info happens within 15 minutes, before my first cup of coffee.  Thereafter I take a leisurely scroll through my Google Plus feed which does actually present different stories from time to time.  I take “time out” to check out The Fancy and Houzz but have learnt that Pinterest is to be avoided at all costs first thing in the morning if I’m trying to have a productive morning.  So, it’s time to check emails. Every now and then, much less frequently than before, I get in depth personal emails which give a very detailed breakdown of some or other situation that has arisen.  Most times this info is fed to me via bite-size chunks in WhatsApp messages.

A Skype call almost seems intrusive these days.  So personal I think … Quite intrusive indeed.

So close yet so far

6 Degrees of separation is the concept that everyone is six steps away from any other person in the world (by way of introduction).  This means that a chain of  “a friend of a friend” statements can be made on average to connect any 2 people in just six steps. (Frigves Karinthy originally noted the idea and it was popularised by a play written by John Guare.)

I’ve just checked my online ‘friend’ count; it looks something like this:  Twitter – 4,000 followers, FaceBook – 700 friends, LinkedIn – 1,200 connections,  Google+ – 180 in my circles.  Nothing to write home about or anything that is going to break world records.  Based on 6 degrees I should be connected to a significant amount of people regardless.

My FaceBook friends in particular gave me a couple of sleepless nights (unbeknown to them) as I realised I didn’t know them at all.  I keep my social media activity very seperate i.e. use the various platforms and networks for different purposes.  In many instances I have very different people that I interact with on all my social media engagements.  My FaceBook is private and personal.  I can almost forgive myself for not knowing the intimate details of the aforementioned Twitter friend, but FaceBook people I really don’t have an excuse for.

Sure I know that a friend of a friend’s dog went missing last week, that the weather is either good or bad depending on where you are at any given moment, that the gym-bunnies proudly announce their exercise regime and which music concerts my friends are attending these days. But very seldom do I explore those necessary conversations where a Like on FaceBook just isn’t appropriate, like a death in the family or retrenchment.

I am embarassed

My friends deserve better from me.  They deserve my attention and support. I have to change this and start doing things differently.

Beyond the networking result from having connections what is the benefit to a life of purpose without actually knowing the people you already know?

14 Comments

  1. Bruno Bertrand (@bgbertrand)

    interesting take Melanie – I don’t see a conflict between having close personal “physical” interaction with friends and family, and “virtual” connections with social media peeps. In a way, because social media connections rarely know you well, their feedback or comments should be less biased than those who care about us – and sometimes shy from being totally honest by fear of hurting our feelings.

    in many ways, social connections tend to keep us honest…

    Like

  2. Anne-Marie Hart

    I personally don’t wear my heart on my facebook page, but it is a great way to keep up with friends and family (instant messaging), Periodically I go through ‘friends’ pages to see what they’ve been up to i.e. photos, and would love it if there was less of those posts with poems and ‘wise words’, and more personal things, like something a child said this morning, or a picture of a friends oddly behaved pet, or a silly signpost in a neighbourhood for example. Thanks for another great blog Mel!

    Like

  3. Debby Edelstein

    Great post and food for thought thanks Mel! Social media can enhance much in our lives – work, business, contact with people we don’t see on a regular basis – but it’s not a replacement for old fashioned conversation and I think that sometimes we forget that. that’s for the reminder

    Like

  4. Laura-kim Allmayer

    I have very mixed feelings on this – like you my FB and twitter are used differently – I am picky about who I friend on FB but twitter is a free for all :-p

    The thing is though that even though you may not ask how my kids are you help out when I ask for help (like with the East London thing) and if something serious happened to one of my kids or to D you would take an interest.

    It is a tough one to get a balance though!

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    1. Mother

      Admittedly, I have my moments when I tire of the randomness of impersonal relationships and retreat to the good folk I know best – then I want to break free and just spend time with strangers again…

      Like

  5. Jacqui MackwayWilson (@GoSocialSA)

    In our highly connected world, what I find most striking is how near, yet far we often are to those in our various online social circles; often times, as someone involved in building and managing online communities, I feel more connected (and know more about the daily lives) of people I’ve never met before than to the people in my inner circles (regardless of social platform). While having every conceivable mechanism for staying in touch, I find myself (and many of those I know) becoming lazier about putting in the effort when all it takes is a status update, an SMS, a tweet, a mail – yet we still somehow struggle to ‘find the time’ for those important to us.

    I concur strongly with you on using different platforms in different ways and also add ‘real friends’ only on Facebook for example, it’s a ‘tenet’ and one which I’ve strived to preserve. Yet the numbers inevitably grow over time, making it increasingly difficult to live in ‘community’ with the people you’re ‘friends with’. You hit the nail on the head when you exposed your heart towards your true friends; that they deserve better. We could probably all do better in that sense. Using lists on Facebook and Twitter, circles on Google Plus and adding special friends to collaborate with us on certain Pinterest boards for instance may help to include them and keep in contact, but I think Dunbar’s number plays a role here.

    We might do well to take a tip from village life in days gone by, where perhaps 150 -230 people were known to you, interacted with on a daily basis and stable, meaningful relationships were maintained, instead of trying to embrace the hoardes of the Global Village. Perhaps less is more…? #My2cents Thanks for the food for thought!

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  6. Bo

    So true Mel! Having gone through the phases of social media addiction myself, I find I am left with a sense of emptiness somedays. I am ashamed that I neglected so many real-life friends and others around me to check into Foursquare, to tweet my lunch and to RT a good joke. What for? Months down the line, I am unsure what Friendship really means on Twitter. It’s become a cruel, hard place where tweeps unfollow or block at a drop of a hat instead of healthy conversation. I have slowly found myself opening up more on Facebook, especially seeing those close to me, like my Mom, Liking my status. It suddenly means more and so I find more time to update it, knowing it gives her joy. But surely a phone call would too. That’s what counts… Great blog post!

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