|Social Media, Changing Our Relationships|
My daughter recently made a comment that started me thinking about the various relationships in my life. Driving home after attending our annual Open House, she and her brother discussed how they no longer knew the majority of my friends. When she mentioned it, I reminded her that she hasn’t lived at home for over 12 years and things change.
Those changes include the fact that I no longer commute to Calgary or throughout Alberta for my work as I now have the privilege of working from a home office. This makes it much easier for me to become involved in and get to know the people in my local community. Another change is the connectedness that I now experience via the Internet, a factor that is impacting the isolation once prevalent in rural and remote communities. Quoting Dr. James Tiller “...The Internet begat another innovation, the World Wide Web, which in turn begat many other innovations, including Facebook, Google, Twitter and Wikipedia.” Social media and social networking are changing the ways that people relate.
Jeff Sonderman reports Twitter is more of an interest network organized by what you follow rather than who you know and is a key news source for only 2% of Americans. My analytical side enjoys Twitter as it assists in maintaining focus as I follow only those tweets relevant to my interests. It is also great that there is Twitter app for my phone, so when I’m waiting for someone or something, I have easy access.
I am grateful that Facebook has reunited me with members of my extended family and old acquaintances. How awesome that I was able to see photos of the newest addition to our family tree within hours of his birth. This sharing of little pieces of our lives enables us to engage in richer conversations so much quicker when we meet face to face.
It is interesting to see how connections cross over on a variety of levels. TouchGraph has a Facebook Visual Browser that provides a colourful graphic, a visualization of your social networks. Different groupings make it easy to identify your associations with others and the relationships within each cluster. To me each one represents a community that I am a part of either as an active member or remain attached to as alumni. Not all of the people I associate with use social media, in fact some do not relate to this technical age at all, so to stay connected requires a different effort.
Reflecting on how relationships are formed and develop, I’ve learnt over time not everyone that comes into my life remains a part of my life forever. Sometimes they are just there for a season and/or for a reason. Then there are those links that neither time nor space separate. Dr. Patch Adams speaking in a conference I attended several years ago mentioned that the biggest need encountered in his global travels was the loneliness people experienced and an overwhelming cry for friendship and meaningful relationships.
Every person we connect with will fall into one of the following categories:
According to Robin Dunbar, the director of the Institute of Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology at Oxford University, human biology and socialization creates a natural group limit. Known as Dunbar’s number it says that 150 is the theoretical cognitive limit to the number of people with whom stable relationships that can be maintained. A paper presented by KAIST at the 2008 Internet Measurement Conference suggests statistically that an on-line network up to 200 appears to be manageable; however, drops off after that. It is interesting to note that the social networking service PATH limits each user to 150 “friends” to encourage high quality connections. This perhaps speaks about managing connections on a physiological or psychological level; however, does not address what adds meaning to them.
What is meaningful differs across the human spectrum; however, I believe that although individuals may choose to isolate themselves within society, there exists an inner longing for some sort of relationship. People that cross our paths can provide meaning and purpose for an hour, a day or a lifetime, when we live in the moment. It is therefore not surprising my children don’t always know the people who may gather in my kitchen anymore. When I stop myself from being busy with all the things calling out for my attention and take advantage of those moments, I’ve found unexpected treasures that opened doors for personal growth, friendship, and business or just instances of pure pleasure.Relationships do change over time. Some provide a shared moment; a temporary helping hand or an unwanted but needed life lesson and others pass by the wayside. But there are those that grow and provide a richness that just makes us want more and sometimes we find them in the most surprising places.