I have never been on Facebook. When I heard people talk about FB “friends”, then “unfriending”, then “frienamies”, I wondered how social networking was changing our use of words as well as the actual concepts that we have about relationships. I have written previously that my premise for blogging is using technology to enhance my relationships with family and existing friends. Along the way, I have come across some blogging friends, whom I probably would not have met otherwise.
As I wrote in my prior pieces on blogger’s statistics, readers show up whom I have never known before. To try to conceptualize this, I thought of the metaphor of a large party of people. We arrive at the party without knowing each other, mingle, converse, move to other parts of the room, and possibly meet again on another occasion. Over time, we might begin to visit more often, then become regular in our conversations. With this image, I began to consider whether the social dynamics of the mixer-event might apply to social networking.
I will admit that large social gatherings are one of my least favorite ways of spending an evening. I’m not one for small talk. Getting from “Hi, I’m…” to figuring out whether someone has common interests risks listening to a lot of run-on sentences about topics for which I have no knowledge or desire to learn about (e.g. sporting events, cars, movie stars, the latest still-wet romance novel…). Of course, a good way to filter out those conversations, when some asks, “What do you do?” (ie. “What’s you’re your profession”) is to respond, “Raise goats”. The questioner will either look puzzled, then see someone they have been dying to catch up with, or express true curiosity.
What I look for in a social gathering is how do the people divide themselves up. I might see two or three people in a close conversation. I might see half a dozen in a circle. I might see individuals milling about, either not engaged or looking for someone familiar. The individuals are the easiest to approach, whether this turns into a greet-and-move on encounter or develops into a discussion. The circles are easy to approach from the side, listen in on and decide whether I want to join in at some point. Couples and trios are the hardest to approach, as your presence has a high risk of appearing intrusive.
What I observe next is who is speaking. Some groups stand about in physical proximity but without anyone saying anything. Maybe they all know each other so well or not at all that they have little to say, or are just comfortable being together. Some groups appear to be more of a monologue from one person with the others smiling, nodding, and affirming what she or he said. Other groups have more of a banter going, with various members contributing comments. The first group is easy to step up to and stand along with. Maybe I contribute a handshake, introduction, acknowledging nod of the head, before wondering how long I stand here in silence. For a monologue, unless the topic interests me, I am not going to stay around long once I realize that interjections are not welcome. A group that is conversing and responds to others who wander in is my comfort zone.
Applying this analogy to the blogging world, going onto WordPress is like walking into the party. I can mill around blogs, reading here and there, observing how many Likes a post has, how many subscribers and views a blogger has, and reading the comments. I can read the content of the post to decide whether I want to spend more time in that circle. Bloggers who have hundreds of subscribers and Likes, I might read, but I am less likely to comment on, as they have plenty of audience listening already. If I notice that she or he has lots of comments, but rarely responds back, I suspect that she or he is in the monologue mode, maybe enjoying the affirmation of the comments, but not really wanting to make this as a conversation. If they have few or no comments to their posts, I might wonder whether she or he is standing alone, waiting. I might leave a comment to see what response I get. In a similar manner after posting a blog, when I notice in my statistics that I have lots of view of a post and likes, but no or few comments, I’m concerned that I was in monologue mode, or so long-winded that no one felt comfortable dropping in his or her ideas.
However, in my use of the word “friends” people whom I meet at parties, and whom I might only see again at a similar party a year or two later, I would call “acquaintances”. Yes, we might have a grand time at the event, but our degree of intimacy is shallow and our likelihood of standing by each other over the course of life events remote. A friend is someone whom I have lasting interactions with, share common interests and insights, and whom I share the course of life events with. Acquaintances are quite legitimate relationships, but do not have the same level of affinity or loyalty that friendships do.
But, this begs another questions about the friendships among bloggers. Friends help each other out, “through thick and thin” sort of thing. Can virtual relationships actually perform this function? Like acquaintances in the substantial world, on-line relationships come and go. A blogger shuts down his or her site. Poof. No access. A blogger wanders off to other circles and stopped dropping by, Liking posts, or commenting. Wonder where you’ve been. A blogger gets miffed at a comment you made and makes his or her site “private” but does not inform you of the password (a risk that I learned after suggesting in a comment that a post was at risk of being too personal in its content and naming-names). Many bloggers use avatar names only, giving you their persona, but not access to the identity. Some bloggers are posting for their businesses, keeping and expanding their contacts and potential costumers (have you ever found out half way through a party that someone you are talking too sells real estate, insurance, etc. and morphs from friendly chatting to “drop by the office his week” pitch?).
Well, whatever this phenomenon of bloggers friendship is, I think back to a conversation that I had 40 or so years ago. My father, grandfather, and I visited a 92-year-old friend of my grandfather’s. Don looked at me, smiled, praised his friendship with my grandfather and said, “Never stop making friends. When you get to my age, they all start dying off on you. You’ve always got to make new friends.” So, here I am with friends in California, New York, Virginia, Maryland, and West Virginia where I have worked and live. On line, I have friends in California, Virginia, Oklahoma, Kansas, Massachusetts, Ohio… Never stop making friends.
As you head off to your New Year’s Eve Party, enjoy the conversations, consider the friendships, raise a toast. I’m scheduled to work tomorrow. Happy New Year!