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?