I was ‘talking’ with a friend of mine and she expressed concern over what the future will hold when the majority of social interaction is via the Internet vs. face-to-face. Social Networking has nearly reached mainstream acceptance and it’s proven to be a powerful tool for cultivating relationships, both pre-existing as well as ones which might have otherwise fizzled.
She worried that people with 400 ‘friends’ placed less emphases on ‘friendship’ then those of us who are a little less popular, or at least less eager to claim a connection. I understand her concerns but felt some irony since we were communicating over ‘instant messanger’ at the time.
I wondered if she was projecting her experiences a little too strongly and believe that it may not be all that serious. I’ve met people on the internet and known them for months before seeing them IRL – in real life. In fact, I have a good friend who met his wife online. So I know it’s possible to cultivate lasting relationships even if you can’t meet for drinks or talk over coffee. If humans can personify plants then it’s not surprising to me that we can respond to strongly even to just graphical representations of people.
I was reminded of this when reading Reversing Cause and Effect by Keith Schacht. Keith explains that many people expect to become ‘friends’ and then try to leverage the network, regardless of the strength of the connection.
I love Keith’s ability to summarize the distinction, but I wonder it’s also a case of someone inflicting the experiences of the past on the present and future. I think in Keith’s exampe, he simply felt put out by the woman but I believe there’s two sides to consider;
- If I were Keith’s true friend, with the job opening, I’d want him to pass on the contact to me, along with his impressions. Far better to have some basis for judging this application (even a negative impression) then to let that valuable data go to waste and be forced to consider it in the absence of valuable input from your network.
- It’s also possible that the woman wasn’t entirely in wrong either, though clearly she went about it awkwardly. After all, she had made a connection with Keith, and her exploring the value of that link is exactly the act of “offering value” that Keith agrees must be practiced to build true friendship.
LinkedIn actually leverages the introduction concept. I believe the woman’s mistake was in confusing a recommendation (what she asked for) with a referral (the most she should have expect).
Social networks are bringing a level of ‘intimacy’ to a scale most of us are unused to experiencing. However, as Giff Constable remarks there’s a lot of power in being able to extend a ‘friendship’ to someone you would have lost touch with previously.
Clearly, just as IRL, some of those ‘friends’ will have more tact then others.