The Rise and Fall of Friends

We have been transformed. We have been transformed from a culture of Leave it to Beaver, where friends were next door neighbors or maybe work or church associates, into a culture where “friend” is a status symbol peddled by the gazillion social networks. It’s not uncommon to hear someone at a tech conferenct like Blog World Expo, where I am for the next few days, or Web 2.0 Expo, where Ray is bringing us coverage, proclaim, I’ve got 3500 friends on Twitter or I capped out at 5000 friends on Facebook. They won’t let me add more.

Silliness, of course, and I’ve talked about it before.

Putting aside the cliché friends bit, social media has definitely altered the way humanity interacts with each other and it’s not at all a bad thing. Cultural divides are falling, business relationships are being built. Heck, people are even getting married because of Twitter.

I can’t help but think that there is somewhat of an ebb and flow that takes place and we are on a retreating slope. At the very core of our human existence, we want relationships. While the inundation of networking opportunities, associates or “friends” is satisfying in its own right, it challenges the ability for humans to have their most basic relational instinct satisfied.

The other night on The Aaron Brazell Show, I cornered guest Jim Long (a minor demigod on Twitter) about who his favorite people on Twitter were. I knew I sent him a curve ball and expected him to dance out by making a diplomatic statement like, “Everyone is my favorite” or “I don’t have one”. Instead, he noted that as the quantity of friends go up, it becomes increasingly difficult to “see” the people he loved to see.

In essence, he was stating that, though Twitter satisifed a communications need and a desire to be connected, the ability to “relate” was getting more lost.

On another episode of the Aaron Brazell Show, my friend Jessie Newburn talked about the ebb and flow of generations and how the 4-part cycle of generations demonstrated and ebb and flow of how things were done. In Generation X,  loosely disconnected from previous generations and went their own way, but that the Millennial (often incorrectly called Generation Y) generation has a tendency to regroup.

Sort of like social media. The influx of friends, the followers, the contacts, the blogs, the feeds, the networking opportunities, the parties, the conversations…. all relatively empty from a human instinct perspective. For my part, I’ve spent less time engaged in all these things and more time in one on one relationships. I haven’t read my Google Reader in over a month. I get on twitter and Friendfeed in small spurts. I don’t go to DC for as many social events as I used to.

However, my Twitter direct message box is full. My IM is going all day. My phone book is full.

It’s all about being personal?

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Aaron Brazell

Aaron Brazell is a Baltimore, MD-based WordPress developer, a co-founder at WP Engine, WordPress core contributor and author. He wrote the book WordPress Bible and has been publishing on the web since 2000. You can follow him on Twitter, on his personal blog and view his photography at The Aperture Filter.

7 thoughts on “The Rise and Fall of Friends”

  1. Call me a doomsayer (hell, I've been called worse) but I think the real peril in *chokegag*social media (I still hate that term) is the redefinition of “friendship” as some sort of socio-economic-political capital. People will go out of their way and work hard to build relationships, real life ones on top of the online ones (the people I have worked with in “meatspace” are the ones I find I can converse with best on social platforms).But there is an asymmetry at work, because even if you are “friends” with someone and have worked with them, they still may have more capital than you, and it becomes hard for the karma that exists in real life relationships to work itself out. This isn't because people are egotistical or evil or jerks (well, some are, but they will flame out and die), but because the sprawling nature of communications doesn't let them have time or resources.And some people just aren't good at keeping up with the volume of individual correspondence from “friends,” either, no matter who they are.Bottom line is, you're right about one-to-one relationships being the important ones. But it needs to be emphasized that when they become inherently unequal or don't allow for reciprocity, one should step back and evaluate the strength of “social media” for relationship building, and as you have, maybe use their email and phone more than their friendfeed. It's one thing to be “fed” your “friends.” It's another to have to proactively maintain your relationships,

  2. “For my part, I’ve spent less time engaged in all these things and more time in one on one relationships. I haven’t read my Google Reader in over a month. I get on twitter and Friendfeed in small spurts. I don’t go to DC for as many social events as I used to.”This sounds like me. I swear I'm not being anti-social.Should it be all about being personal?I'm not sure. I know it's a lot of personal. I enjoy connecting with the people that I do, helping them, sharing information, and really just the friendships that develop. I would miss it if it weren't possible. I'm an addict yes, but to something that adds value to my life. When does value reach it's tipping point?

  3. So. Should I unfollow you? I'll be honest with you. I see Twitter as a way to maybe “spark” more personal relations with people playing in the same space. When it doesn't work out- or those people don't see me as someone worth following back- I unfollow, because then it's clear there's no give-and-take. What would really make a difference would be if everyone would unfollow those well-known interneters (Not necessarily the 250, but maybe the 2500) that give each other follow-backs. One thing I noticed when I joined Twitter a few weeks ago was that everyone has the same faces on their follows -the confused-looking guy who looks like he's saying “huh”, the girl who's yelling through her hands, the green and black aquatic animal, the girl eating a lollypop, the brother with the glasses, the sly-looking woman who got fired for blogging at work (I <3 her, actually) and on and on. As a newbie, I thought I needed those people, too. But, let's unfollow those folks! I will if you do! *grin*Inciting Revolution, Ericahttp://twitter.com/cosmicgirlndc

  4. Actually, I have put a hiatus on following people that I don't knowpersonally or have had some contact with. Doesn't mean I have to meet themin person, but I'm more inclined to follow someone like you who comments onmy blog than just any old joe that follows randomly. I am in no hurt forfollowers as I get 20-30 new ones per day. Unless there's a personalinvestment there though, I don't bother. If anything, I'm following *too*many people now. :)

  5. I noticed that I was enamored with certain social media — Facebook and Twitter, in particular — when I felt I had a connection to the people in my sphere. I felt the early adopters were engaged and interactive. As more people started using said tools for their own reasons, and my volume of friends went up, I found my interest flagging a bit. I tried — valiantly, but only for a while — to keep my FB friends below the magical 150 mark, but that was near impossible, and I've given up on that strategy.I think FB has done a better job, of late, in allowing me to turn up or down volume on people and by reducing the friend feed activity. I find in FB, it's the one-on-one comments and status updates that interest me the most. Twitter, to me, is much more of a living, breathing organism. I have to follow and unfollow people based on their impact on my whole network. More than once I have un-followed someone whose tweet content I like and whose person I like, but whose *impact* on my Tweet feed I didn't like, e.g. massive tweeting and pushing out other people's tweets. Anyhoo, I find that much of the value of social media is, interestingly, developing and strengthening the skill to navigate a shifting terrain. Does that make sense? It's not so much about social media being perfect. And a perfect static tool. I experience that it's very much about a dynamic interaction with a community of people and that I have to be aware of the changes in the community, changes in what I want and then to adapt, in real time, so that the social media tools continue to work for me. As much as the environment of each tool changes, with new people coming in, old timers slowing down their posts and such, my own interests fluctuate, and I'm the one that has to make the tool work for me … all while being in relationship to the dynamic world of others, and their relationships, at the same time.Thoughts on a Saturday morning. Have a great time at BWE08. See you at Dobbin Starbucks soon.

  6. I think that the term “friend” is being re-defined to be more of the “acquaintance” type of meaning. A true “friend” will lend you money when you need it and listen to your troubles, and offer to help. Not many “internet” friends will do that. Come to think of it, nowadays pretty much no one anywhere will do that. I think that our world is turning into a big dung heap where it is everyone is out for themselves, we're all “frenemies” nowadays!

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