Drinks today with a friend of mine, someone I would call a work friend as in we’ve rarely done anything together outside of the context of work. But this friend follows me on Twitter (milouness) and on Facebook and as we talked I realize she knows just about everything there is to know about me, or at least anything that I’ve been reflecting upon on Twitter or Facebook, which is probably 90% + of what is meaningful to me.
My friend is a baby boomer like I, but quite different from most of my other baby boomer friends, who naturally form the bulk of my friendships given that they’re just as old and decrepit as I am. And as I drove back from our chat, I got to thinking about the odd state of my friendships, where most of my friends in real life, the longstanding ones, have no real-time connection to me because they’re not on Twitter, they’re not on Facebook, or if they are, they are there in the most perfunctory of ways. A handful are active on social networks, but for the most part they are absent and, unlike my work friend, have no real-time insight into me, and, of course, I don’t have that insight into them. It’s really odd because when I meet with these friends, maybe once a week, but for some very dear friends who are somewhere else in the country, much less often, I spend a lot of time updating them on what I’ve been up to, which is of course available for anyone to know, really. But my more casual friends, some of whom I’ve never even met in the physical world, are actually, if they care to be, part of my everyday life, and I part of theirs.
So, I wonder, which really are the most important networks in my life? It’s disturbing to contemplate that these lifelong friends actually may end up inhabiting some other, less intimate category, but it’s hard to avoid that conclusion. Social networks not only have the power to connect you to entirely new categories of allies and collaborators, they also indirectly can erode other ties that are based on a powerful but, in the end, limited and, in some ways, arbitrary factor–physical proximity.
If this dynamic can develop in the context of lifelong friendships, imagine what it could mean to organizations that fail to develop social platforms among their employees? Sure, you may work alongside someone every day but, if you’re not allowed to access Twitter at work, as an example, you may not have the intimate insight into their thinking that develops trust. In fact, you may end up developing more trusting relations with “strangers” you meet who share your same interests. Some of them may even work for your competitors.
What to make of this funny dynamic? Can I make others, particularly those who don’t join social networks because they believe, sincerely, that they lead to shallow relationships, see what is really occurring? I wonder, because, you see, if you don’t participate, it doesn’t make sense to you. It’s a puzzlement.