Thoughts on the changing landscapes of social media

picture1.jpg I woke up to this status update on Facebook this morning, and it pissed me off ("yay! I'm raising my kid to kill an animal for fun, and I think it's just fine that the animal may be out there wounded and terrified and alone!"). Which made me unable to go back to sleep. Which made me wonder why I have this person on my friends list to begin with. Which, since I was awake and mad, made me contemplate the changing landscape of social media in terms of where my interests and loyalties lie.

I used to reserve Facebook strictly for people I knew personally in real life. The person above was a childhood friend---it was one of the stereotypical "oh, cool" Facebook reconnections. Since then I've been bored by her updates. (I don't mean to single her out, but this was just a glaring example, so I'm using it as a sort of platonic ideal of "ways Facebook doesn't blow my skirt up anymore.") As I lay in bed fretting and tossing (you do that a lot when you're sick), I ran through my friend lists, and I realized I have a lot of people friended who I really don't care about at all. I knew them when I was 12 years old, and then I didn't talk to them for 20 years, and in the meantime we stopped having anything in common. I'm so not interested in a backwoods Missouri deer-shooting Bible-beater now.

So then I realized that, slowly, many of my social media connections have become MORE interesting and important to me than these flesh-and-blood acquaintances. It makes sense, once realized. My social media connections reflect current current interests and commonalities rather than those from junior high. And some of my online connections have become flesh-and-blood acquaintances; in fact, a few have become some of my closest friends. I have made some real-life reconnections that ARE important and interesting to me, and Facebook has been cool for that. Some real gems turn up. I have simply decided to stop reflexively stabbing at the "add" button just because I know someone.

It is psychologically and sociologically interesting to me that I care so little about some people I used to know personally yet keep track of and am interested in the goings-on of people I have never met in real life. I've got nursing colleagues scattered across the country and fellow geeks scattered across the globe whom I am truly personally interested in. Some of us even IM and text (if you'd have asked me 3 years ago whether I'd give my phone number to someone I didn't know, I would've emphatically said, "are you nuts?" Of course, Google Voice has changed this landscape as well, but that's another post).

The way things have been shaking out is I connect with people through their blogs and/or Twitter and then end up striking up so many conversations that we add each other on Facebook, where we get to know each other even better, and then bam. You've got an actual friendship. It's pretty cool. (Some of my Facebook friendships have also started on a more utilitarian basis: Twitter friends I wanted to be able to play Lexulous with.)

Anyway, my POINT is this: I would argue that social media is NOT making us more isolated as a society but is rather broadening our horizons. I have friends in Australia with whom I enjoy bantering about technology, nurses all over the country with whom I enjoy sharing professional challenges and triumphs, and now local friends I probably never would have met without Twitter. I'm paring down my Facebook contacts to reflect people I'm currently interested in rather than people I've met at some point in my life. I'm doing this with gulping sighs of relief. No more deer-shootings will have me gritting my teeth.