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Busy Signal: Are Social Networks Interrupting Our Social Life?

January 11, 2010

Last night, I was checking out guilty pleasure, Julia Allison’s blog, and she had a quote on it that said:

Are we moving away from being fully present and engaged because we are too busy broadcasting to the world that we are indeed leading an interesting life?

It was linked to a column on Huffington Post written by Jasmine Boussem. As someone who has lived nearly half of her life on the Internet, and more than 5 years of that as a blogger, I of course wanted to check it out to find out what her take on the whole phenomenon of excessive connectivity meant to her. Her analysis is fairly spot on and her example of a dinner party where everyone was too busy recording the fact they were at a dinner party rather than actually participate in said party was telling.

Thus far, I have spent my entire twentysomething career on the Internet. I joke that I am an Internet celebrity, although I really don’t have that many followers and those that I do have, I generally know and talk to on a regular basis and I consider them friends, not followers, and I’m not sure what the difference is between being famous and having followers and just having a lot of friends. Maybe there isn’t one?

Although I am on Facebook and Twitter, a blogger and have the evil iPhone, which is like the gateway drug to becoming a hermit, I try to not completely alienate my boyfriend, family and friends from wanting anything to do with me. Most of what I blog or tweet happens before and after what I actually do. I try to save my thoughts and funny quotes for later on, because it will probably be just as funny then as it is right now and by the way, have you ever heard of the phrase “You should have been there”? Well, I wasn’t, and the Internet doesn’t really make that great of a substitution.

It’s scary to think that we would rather share with people who are not with us what we are doing than actually interact with the people who are actually physically present. A single tweet saying that you are with a group of people can be fun – I’ll admit to tweeting a group “hello” during the meet-ups that I host, but then the phone goes away. I do not continually tweet to the bloggers who are not at my meet-up what is going on. Because there are very important people who are with me who have spent time and money and energy to get where they are and that deserves respect.

It’s easy to want to stay connected with as many people as possible. I’ll be the first to admit that I have formed many meaningful relationships through my online encounters. It’s the primary way I made friends when I first moved to New York City. But the truth is that offline relationships need as much care and devotion as our online relationships. We blog daily to maintain readers and we come up with interesting topics to tweet about so we don’t lose followers or so that we’ll be retweeted and gain new followers. But what happens to the in-real-life friends who fall by the wayside because you’re too busy talking to people you’ve never met to find out what is going on in the life of the real flesh and blood person sitting in front of you. In that moment, there is only one friend, only one fan, only one follower of yours that deserves the best 140 characters you’ve got.

How do you maintain the balance between your social networking and your social life?

  1. January 11, 2010 10:31 AM

    I think it would be very funny to see a group of tweeps at a meet up, sitting around a table tweeting to everyone in the group. Kinda like a LAN party without the gaming aspect. Great post.

    • January 11, 2010 12:01 PM

      I love the LAN party analogy of the dinner party analogy. It’s exactly like that. Though I’ve been blogging for all my twenties, I’ve not really got into the “social networking” aspect of it until last year, when I finally signed up for Twitter and started blogging on a schedule, reading other blogs and actually forming friendships with these wonderfully interesting people all over the world. I refuse to get an iPhone, because I fear it would take over – I have a crappy, free-with-a–2-year-contract phone that cacks out more than half the time and in all honesty I’d rather turn it off on weekends. If I had one that actually worked properly and did lots of cool internet-type stuff, I’d become obsessed with it and it would definitely be detrimental to my REAL life!

      This is a very interesting topic, and I’ve seen both sides of it – I’ve had friends who blog religiously on schedule, guest blog all over the place and live this Internet Celebrity type life, only to find them burn themselves out, feel like they have to live up to the online persona when in reality it’s the people *in* that person’s life that make the internet stories possible. I’ve seen friends come to the realisation that they’re investing far too much time and money into social networking to the detriment of their real life – home time, hubby time, friend time were all put on the backburner. I think there’s a fine line – as long as social networking doesn’t disrupt an already established, pre-blogging routine including quality time with loved ones, work productivity etc. and actually become *more* of a prioroty, then I think everything’s in check.

      • January 11, 2010 12:04 PM

        I completely agree! Blogging and social networking should add to your life – not replace it.

    • January 11, 2010 12:05 PM

      I have been to those meet-ups where people are on their phones the whole time! If this is what it’s going to be like, you might as well stay home and save your money that you spent ordering dinner and drinks!

  2. January 11, 2010 10:45 AM

    I don’t know that I’ve mastered finding that perfect balance. There are times where I feel that I spend too much time on the internet and other times where I just want to curl up in bed with my laptop. It hasn’t negatively affected me so far so maybe I am doing something right.

    • January 11, 2010 12:05 PM

      I definitely think people can do both! I certainly wouldn’t blog if I didn’t think it’s possible. I remember in high school getting anxious if I hadn’t checked my email. But now I realize that not tweeting everything or not responding to email in 5 minutes isn’t a bad thing. I think it perpetuates unrealistic expectations.

  3. January 11, 2010 11:56 AM

    Hmm, I definitely don’t think I’ve found a balance. I mean, I don’t tweet the entire time I’m out with friends or family, but I definitely do at some times. I don’t think it really detracts from the time I’m spending with them. In general, (social media sites aside) we’ve become so connected to technology. For instance, if I’m out with my fam, someone is texting at all times. If they are texting, I don’t feel guilty tweeting.

    • January 11, 2010 12:01 PM

      But do you really like that they are texting? I mean, yes we’ve become connected to technology and people do it, but the point of the article (and my post) is does that make it good and the right thing to keep perpetuating? Personally, I hate it when people answer their phone or text, unless it’s an emergency or someone they’ve or we’ve been expecting to hear from, because I feel like it’s interrupting the conversation I’m having with them. I don’t want them talking to someone else when they are supposed to be talking to me. Can’t it wait an hour until we’re done? Is everything really so important that we need to do it right now? These are just some questions I’ve been thinking about.

  4. January 11, 2010 12:17 PM

    I started the practice of writing in my journal again. My private journal, using pen and ink. So many thoughts I have felt compelled to share with the world are best written there. It has also helped me to move away from disjointed snippets and back to full sentences and paragraphs. I think blogging has a different feel (for me) than Twitter and Facebook, because I am usually exploring thoughts at length. But for me, there are many thoughts I might want to explore without publishing them for all to see. I found that I was using my blog as a pseudo-journal but would censor very personal topics or statements; it has been helpful to find a place for these and have total freedom in whatever I want to write.

    But I do think that FB and Twitter have added to my social experience in more ways than they have harmed them. What a joy is has been to reconnect with friends I never thought I would see again.

  5. January 11, 2010 12:48 PM

    Yes. I think that my involvement was starting to hurt my relationships in real life. So I have pulled back. I like reading blogs better than twitter. Although you get tons more responses on Twitter. I enjoy facebook because of all the pictures. And it is slower… I feel so behind on Twitter!

    Good post, Allison!

    • January 11, 2010 1:00 PM

      I give myself breaks on the weekend. I’ll only check or tweet a couple of times, versus when I’m at work or at home at night, where I’m on all the time! And I make it a point to leave my phone in my purse while I’m out. It helps that Erik gives me dirty looks when I check Twitter. 🙂

  6. January 11, 2010 4:29 PM

    “It’s scary to think that we would rather share with people who are not with us what we are doing than actually interact with the people who are actually physically present.”

    Great point. I set limits for myself. The past month I have been home for winter break so I have had basically nothing to do and I let myself do a lot of internet surfing and such but as I return to school in a few days I will really limit my social networking. Blogging will happen only in the morning and I won’t be on twitter or Fbook nearly as much.

    Also, when I go out to do something with my friends or just off on my own I often turn my phone off so that I won’t be distracted or off in some distant land.

    And like Emily Jane, I refuse to get the Blackberry or iPhone for I fear that I may become a slave to my techology.

    Love the post though.

    Hannah Katy

  7. January 11, 2010 9:12 PM

    I tend to be invested in my online life less on the weekends. During the week I’m in front of the computer all day anyways so it’s much easier to get sucked into twitter/blogs/facebook. That being said, I still LOVE those parts of my life and blogging is by far my favourite hobby and I don’t think that’s a bad thing!

    • January 11, 2010 9:41 PM

      I don’t think blogging is bad either! That’s not really what this article is saying. I think it’s good to disconnect when you have to connect to someone in real life. It’s like when you see people staring out the window… sometimes I wonder if anyone is listening to me!

  8. January 11, 2010 10:34 PM

    I try to always be ‘present’ when I am with family and friends. That means the phone goes away. I think it is so rude to be texting while you are with others. I don’t even answer my phone unless I think it might be an urgent call. I just think it’s kind of disrespectful! I remember when i was waitressing in college, couples would come in and have dinner and both of them would be talking on their phones. I just wondered – what is the point of having dinner together if you aren’t even goign to talk to each other!

    But it is tough to balance at times – and you do bring up a good point about the dinner party. 🙂

  9. January 12, 2010 1:45 PM

    SPOT ON. I absolutely love this post. I try to maintain the balance, and it honestly does require some deliberate moves sometime to put the phone down, close the laptop and just BE somewhere. That’s a bit easier now that I just moved to a new place and am trying to meet people and get to know them, but at the same time it’s tempting to chronicle everything I’m doing because it’s all new and fun for me (and my mom follows my Tweets to keep up with me 🙂 ). Great, thoughtful post.

  10. Colleen permalink
    January 14, 2010 8:21 PM

    Great post, Allison!

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