Sunday, January 27, 2013

Social Network

         When I was growing up, my social network was made up of friends who lived within bike-riding distance. I lived eleven miles from town, so the social network was pretty limited. We had a party-line (look it up, children – anyone under 30), so phone conversations were might have been shared with all the five numbers that shared the line. If we, the kids, wanted to talk, it meant getting on the bike and going to see one another face-to-face.

         As a result, I had three friends with whom I interacted socially on a regular basis through most of my childhood. The introvert in me liked that. Of course there was school and church with the opportunities to interact with others, but my social network of three was about right for me.

         As an adult, with the advent of the Internet, social networking became a global experience. I have made and maintained “friends” with people from around the globe. I maintain two Facebook pages, two Twitter accounts, three blogs, a LinkedIn account, and a website. Through the various social networks, I am in contact with nearly a thousand people on a somewhat regular basis.

         I have three friends with whom I interact socially on a regular basis. The introvert in me likes that.

         Everyone with whom I interact through the social networks is someone with whom I have some kind of connection. On my personal Facebook page, I know every single person personally. Through my professional Facebook page and LinkedIn account, I either know the person or know them through professional connections. Twitter is the one medium through which I connect to people I do not know personally, but whose content is something I enjoy. As a result, Twitter is the most fluid of the social networks based on those I follow or allow to follow me, but it has led to a partnership and one of the closest friendships I have today.

         The Manti Te’o scandal over the last week has once again drawn social networking into the forefront of public discussion. How could someone actually be drawn into a relationship with someone he has never met? How could someone experience grief over the death of someone they have never met in person? Have these critics never heard of Match.com or one of the other dating sites? Some surveys indicate online dating sites are becoming THE way most singles meet others for dating.

The whole concept of “catfishing,” or drawing someone into a relationship with a fictional individual suddenly came back into our vocabulary (after being introduced through the 2010 documentary). I find it fascinating that someone would go to all the trouble to invent an entirely different life in the hopes of ensnaring the target. It says far more about their mental unwell-being than it does about the ensnared. Most people are innately trusting until someone gives them a reason not to trust.

Social media are designed to connect people and I confess. There are some people I now know and hold in high esteem I met through my original blog. I even made a 24-hour round trip to New York to meet a group of bloggers in person. One blogger organized it because she wanted to meet the people who interacted with her writing. I am still in contact with several of those bloggers six years later. That community of people interacting with one another spanned coast-to-coast and northern-border to southern-border. While each of our blogs reflected the individual personalities, we all shared common interests which connected our blogs in the first place.

Those who wonder whether social media can lead to relationships have likely not fully engaged in the media. The media are designed specifically to foster relationships. Whether they develop into real-life friendships as several of mine have done or even a romantic link (as I keep hoping will happen), the nature of social media encourages connections. Because I am such an introvert by nature, I find it much easier to establish some common grounds before meeting a person. The connections through my blogs and twitter have brought meaningful people in my life with a means to communicate inherent in the media. Those people whom I have met, I look forward to seeing from time to time when I am in their city or they visit mine. My online social networks are ever expanding and are for the most part enriching.

Just as the bicycle limited my social network when I was a child, I keep just a limited set of friends with whom I interact regularly. I like and value the thousands: I need the few.

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