Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Social Connections in an Electronic Age

I set up my first internet account in 1995 when I bought a new Macintosh Performa computer. The little red mail truck in eWorld announced the arrival of messages to my inbox, which were few and far between. The internet was exciting. There were few graphics and any news photos downloaded at a painfully slow pace. In 1998 I planned a trip to Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia, booked all our motels on the internet, and printed off maps of our route. Our computers were used more for games and word processing in those years.

For someone who started on the internet fairly early, I fell off the cutting edge very quickly. Last year I became aware of the fact that the younger members of the family were communicating on My Space, collecting friends, and posting pictures and blogs. I definitely did not belong on the My Space site and found instead a comfortable platform on Blogger.

Enter Facebook, the new essential social networking site. What started as a network for colleges and workplaces is now open to everyone. I estimate the average age of its users to be 25 years old, but my very cool aunts, who are a generation older than me, are also on Facebook.
I signed up 2 weeks ago and my list of friends include family and acquaintances I haven't been in contact with for some time. I received a friend request yesterday from someone I hadn't seen in 24 years and it was interesting to catch up on what their family was doing. I have read that some workplaces are banning Facebook as it can be a very addictive pastime. I really don't care to know what mood people are in, or the latest food fight they have engaged in, and am not trying to collect friends like trophies. I have been playing a Facebook Scrabble game with our Neuropsychologist for the past 10 days (off work hours of course!). My handicap is an IQ that is at least 20 points lower than his, but it has been lots of fun anyway. I belong to a few groups including Canadians over 50, my workplace group, and a group that shares my maiden surname.

I know only a handful of people on my street and see them infrequently. No one sits out on a front porch and chats with the neighbours any more. Our lives are busy and are often centred outside our neighbourhoods. Yet social contact is essential so we are reinventing ways to connect with people and make new friends.

There will be something newer and more exciting than Facebook soon, in fact, it is probably out there already. Regular email has become more impersonal as it is used more and more for business, advertising and spam. Blogger remains my favourite outlet for creativity, learning, and meeting new people. I enjoy visiting with people face to face most of all.

Diane, one of my FB friends, (and a flesh and blood friend), posted this picture she took while on holidays at the lake this month. This young Mennonite family took time away from the farm to enjoy the beach. I am sure they are not meeting friends online and that they belong to a far more traditional social network.

Are you connected to an electronic social network? Has it changed the way you make and keep friends?

15 comments:

  1. I think those sites, used like you are using them, are a great way to stay connected and to meet people you'd otherwise never run into. However, the genX My Space stuff can be scary at times with people putting all sorts of inappropriate content about themselves and their lives out there. I cringe sometimes when I see what people actually share. It almost seems somewhat seedy to me, especially when their friends reply with really um... colorful commentary.

    I was a part of a message board on Beliefnet for a while and enjoyed it as it was centered around my church, but even it became snarky at times. Blogger is about it for me now other than connecting with friends and family via email.

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  2. Ruth--I too have joined Facebook (invited by my brother). My daughter has a wide social network on Facebook (and in real life).
    I find the blogging world more to my community tastes, but will toodle around Facebook for a while!

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  3. Ruth,

    My only on-line connection with friends is through Blogging. As a result of the time blogging uses, I neglect e-mail with friends more than I'd like to.

    You made a good point when you said that everyone is apart - too busy - face to face meetings are rare.

    I miss the days prior to internet and e-mail. At the office, we used to get up and walk across the hall to talk with someone. When I wanted to chat with a friend I'd pick up the phone or drive to see them. I do think the electronic age has caused us to be a little lazy.

    Face to face contact is so important. But don't take my internet away!

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  4. Very thought-provoking, Ruth. Posts like this are what make the internet and blogging so rewarding.

    We actually use our front porch. When the weather is nice - neighbors do walk by and stop and visit. It's the reason we've remained in the same house for 30 years.

    As wonderful as cyberspace connections are, though - there's nothing like the physical reality of a friend - to watch a smile growing on someone's face.

    It's the greatest frustration of blogging. There are so many times when you'd really like to give a hug. But, in ways, I really have felt the {Hugs} that show up in my comment section :0)

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  5. Hi Ruth,
    Although I'm fairly new to blogging, I have really enjoyed meeting so many new friends who share my interests. I still use e-mail too--especially with some family members who don't read/comment on my blog. I have also seen my mom turn into a "blog addict" through the links on my page and we communicate daily through my blog. One year ago, I didn't even know what a blog was!
    At work we use Sametime a lot. I really like that too and wish I could figure out how to use it at home for talking to family.
    I've never been to MySpace and probably wouldn't use FaceBook either, mainly because I spend far too much time in front of my computer generating and reading blogs.
    P.S. Thanks for letting my take up all this space to tell my story.

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  6. Hi Ruth - I took the time to check out Facebook by taking a "tour." I'm not sure I'm ready for that yet. Like the others who have already commented, I'm just getting comfortable in blogging. And I feel that I have made quite a few new friends with similar interests. The thing about Facebook that seems to be inviting is that it is another way of staying in touch with friends and/or relatives who may also be using Facebook - and a good way to share photos and videos which may be a little on the slow side when doing an email versus Facebook. You are right about neighbors nowadays don't seem to connect with each other - everyone has their own activities. It's certainly not like it was 40-50 years ago when there were stay-at-home moms, and everyone in the neighborhood had children, which was always a form of social connection.

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  7. Jayne- Social interaction can be scary or safe in any setting. People can put really inappropriate things on My Space and Facebook, but the user has the ability to control privacy settings and the friends they allow. There are a number of churches that have formed groups on Facebook. My employer formed the Hospital group I joined as a way to encourage networking of employees,and likely to keep an eye on what we are saying. ;)

    KGMom- Those of us with family scattered all over the world know the benefits of these electronic connections. Your daughter is pretty typical of her age group, and what a good way to keep in touch with a large number of friends.

    Mary- If you joined Facebook, you would have to give up sleeping or eating. You are busy enough already. I bet your daughter is on Facebook.

    Cathy- How nice that you sit out on a porch. Face to face interactions are the best. But I agree, sincere emotion and support can be transmitted through blogs and comments.

    Ruthie- Sametime sounds like Yahoo Messenger. I use Messenger to talk to my daughters. We can use the keyboard or microphones. Sure beats long distance charges.
    You can have as much space as you want in my comments!

    MaryC- I signed up for Facebook a few months ago and cancelled my account within 5 minutes. This time I decided to stick it out. The hardest thing has been finding friends my age. Relatively few middle aged people are using it. I felt like I was crashing a college party. It is a great way to keep in touch with family. Where else would I get comments from my 15 year old nephew? He would never email me, but he will leave a sentence on my board.

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  8. Scary, I am already a memeber to so many places here on the web! Ugg, But it has been fun explanding and seeing new things! I so wonder what the future will bring us? I love your comment with how email is a thing of the pass!! You are soo right!

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  9. I love the picture of the Mennonite couple enjoying a day at the lake. My roots are Amish, which is similar to Mennonite and during the years I lived in Ontario, within horse and buggy distance of Lake Erie, we would drive down to the lake and enjoy the day after a busy harvest.

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  10. It's probably good for me to be in touch with electronic network-I'm sociable while at work, but other than that,-I am a complete self-imposed loner.

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  11. I read blogs and check Flickr instead of reading the newspaper or watching the news. I have no idea what is going on in The World, unless my eFriends tell me about it. I guess I'm an ostrich.. with my head in the electronic sand.

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  12. Monarch- Change happens at breakneck speed on the internet. You are young and who knows what you will see or join in your lifetime!

    Anon- I loved that picture too and was glad my friend allowed me to use it.

    Larry- You spend too much time at work. No wonder you want to be alone afterwards.

    Jennifer- If the news is worth noting, you will hear about it from someone. I still read our local paper, but listen to the news only on my way to and from work in the car, mainly for traffic updates.

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  13. I don't remember not having the internet actually, Dad always kept us on the cutting edge. I think I had my first email account when I was 12 maybe? On yahoo. I even met my husband online. Most of my friends local and otherwise I met online as well. Almost everyone I meet asks for my email address now rather then my phone number.

    I still prefer face to face interaction though. When my neighbors moved in I took them fresh bread and introduced myself. I think it is really important to know the people around you. If something ever happened they would be there for me rather then my online friends.

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  14. Jaspenelle- You are a good neighbour. When we got internet in 1995, your dad had been on it for some time already. No wonder you don't remember life without it.

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  15. I only just joined this Facebook a few days ago and am not sure I really like it? Maybe once I use it more I'll see its merits? Anyway ... I've sent you an invitation to be my friend. I thought blogging was enough myself but was told by a member of the younger set, that I really needed to catch up with what was a happening out there!

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