For years now I’ve listened to people born prior to 1975 critique social media unjustly. I suspect this stems from not understanding it and a subconscious preference to write it off rather than acknowledge that there is a communications revolution going on that will leave those that can’t adapt lost and irrelevant. Not alarmingly, I’m not concerned with hearing these generations grumble on about Social media, or technology, or anything for that matter. What’s of greater concern is that members of our generation have started adopting these irrational arguments, which come across like the propaganda of a dictator being excitedly repeated by under-educated masses without any application of critical thought. Social media and the digital age has not led to people not having real conversations or social interactions anymore, it’s simply changed the way that people communicate.
In the past, people’s social circles were generally constrained to a group of friends that we’re located within a certain geographic proximity. Sure, people still had friends from the past that had since moved to different cities, or friends met while traveling, but outside of calling and awkwardly giving one another a 25 minute update of what was going on in life each month there was no way to stay in touch so people drifted apart. This left smaller circles of friends that while well known, were often not very aligned or like-minded leading people to change their behaviour, manner of speaking, and general world views to fit into the geographic environments in which they were situated. The only way they would have any interaction with each other would be to pick up the telephone and arrange a time to meet up.
Our generation no longer has this constraint. We can be friends with whoever we want, wherever they are located. Friendship no longer has to be forced, it can be with whoever you feel brings the best out in you wherever those friends are located. We no longer have to keep our friendship circles small. I recently went through my Facebook friends and counted 789 that I would not want to lose touch with, 238 that I would go out of my way to meet up over a drink or dinner with, and 136 that I would want to travel with.
I’m not suggesting that these friends are as close as they would be if I had a circle of 5 good friends, but I’m of the opinion that a lot of those tight-knit groups of friends that have known each other for 15-20 years are usually such good friends because of the history they’ve shared rather than the alignment of their ideas, ambitions, and world views. I’d classify these groups more as family than friends because you can form these bonds with anyone if you spend enough time with them (see: every high school relationship that ends in a dedicated & miserable marriage).
While I have my core group of friends that at this point are more like family, there’s a lot of friends and interesting people out there that I’d like to stay in touch with and get to know better over the course of my life, when time and geography permits. In order to do this my communication pattern has shifted to more email and Facebook than calling people by phone and flying some place just to see a specific person. I watch their updates come through my news feed; I see when people get married or have kids, I see when people get new jobs or move cities, and I see how peoples voices change based on the content that they post. And when given the chance to sit down with one of these people over a drink, Facebook facilitates me easily reaching out and arranging a time to meet up, regardless of whether their phone number, email, or home address has changed. I don’t need to get on a call with every person once/month and talk about life updates, because frankly that’s not what interests me in who I surround myself with – that’s small talk. And calling someone on a phone to get an update on their life is not just intrusive, it’s obnoxious. I partition my days around a schedule of priorities and I don’t love the idea of someone I haven’t seen in months calling me some night at 8pm and wanting to hear about what’s going on in my life. Facebook allows for us to have this conversation in a passive manner on an on-demand basis. And it means when I do see a friend we can skip over talking about what fills their days and instead focus on ideas, experiences and philosophies on life.This allows for a stronger forging of friendships with people that you genuinely want to be around, rather than talking about nothing with someone you aren’t actually that aligned with simply for the sake of sitting in a cafe with another human being.
I admit that the adoption of this more efficient and less intrusive form of communication has led to people calling one another less, but who cares. New technology doesn’t get adopted en masse unless it’s an improvement from that which came before it. When voicemail was introduced, people started screening their calls more. When cell phones were introduced, people abandoned their home phones. When email was introduced, people called less. And Facebook and Instagram have led to less emailing and calling of people. This is just the result of more efficient and effective platforms being introduced over time that have facilitated people being able to communicate with a greater volume of friends more efficiently and effectively. It has nothing to do with the loss of a skill, just the choice not to continue communicating in a way that is unnecessary.
I understand older generations being frustrated by not understanding the new technology and getting sentimental, but this was like my Grandfather getting upset about CDs being introduced because he already had all his music on cassettes. The fact that the medium has shifted and the style of communication has adapted, simply facilitates our generation being able to organize and maintain these new volumes of relationships. Criticize our generation’s blind ambition, arrogance, or fear of commitment, but don’t claim we’re somehow losing our ability to communicate, or socialize. To the contrary, we are leading the charge on a communications revolution that’s resulting in a global community where everyone has more friends and is more connected than ever before. So don’t take shelter from abusive oldies by adopting their half-baked arguments; speak proudly about how we are actually communicating better and with a stronger voice than any generation that has preceded us.
…..from the desk of Dickie
Disclaimer: I sit down every morning & evening and eat meals with friends. We sit free of any TVs and most distractions (laptops and iPads are usually quite present at the breakfast table) and have meaningful conversations about ideas, news, philosophies, theories, and life. I have more face-to-face conversations and real connections now than at any other point in my life.