Thursday, November 5, 2009

Friendly advice...

A month ago at Sheila's wedding reception Megan and I were talking about "social networks". Love the formal name, "social networks". A friend of hers had told her that she didn't like things like MySpace and Facebook because it was leading to the decline of "real" social interaction. I hear this argument a lot. Usually it's delivered with a sniff of disdain and a "I prefer my REAL friend's company."

Megan and I talked about it for a little bit, both of us coming to the conclusion that people that feel this way are 1. Not from fields of work where it's common to work with people you might never meet face to face. and 2. Really limiting themselves and their world view down.

In both USA Boxing and in the advertising world I would work with people that I would either only see at tournaments or meetings or I might never interact with face to face. I have a group of friends in Kentucky that I love dearly that I have seen face to face fewer than half a dozen times. But it doesn't make them any less "real" to me. I think if you have a job that is done with people spread over the country it's easier to make the transition to making friends with people spread over the world. Just my theory.

But this brings us to Facebook. My experience with social networking started with MySpace. I joined just to be able to chat with my niece and nephew who seemed to be active on their MySpace pages and no place else! Brent was on Facebook but was using it mainly as a networking tool for work. Megan had Facebook and kept trying to convince me it was so much better, but I looked at it as more of a business space. Eventually Brent convinced me to give it a try and I was hooked. More people that I knew were on Facebook than on MySpace (most of them had set up pages in college and just continued them) and others were joining every day.

One of my friends from Kentucky sent me an invitation to play a silly little Facebook game. I started playing and for whatever reason it captured my imagination and I was hooked. I got Brent playing, Christopher set up a Facebook page just so he could play and then I started interacting with people on the forums for the game. During this stretch I was transitioning out of advertising so I was noticing that I could go from when Brent and Christopher left for school and work to when they came home and not talk to another person. Even if I had a client the work I do is mainly done with very little conversation. So basically I was lonely and a bit bored.

I noticed that I had gone from just reading posts that others made to throwing in a comment every once in awhile to looking forward to my morning "coffee" with Teri and Corrie and Ashley. Sometimes we would talk about the game but more often than not we would just chat. How are the kids? What did you do last night? What's the weather like where you are? Big plans for the weekend? The same sort of conversation you would have with your office mates. And as happens in life my social circle within the game grew. One day I realized that no matter what time I logged on, there would be someone online I knew. I had friends in Australia, India, Malaysia, Singapore, England, Ireland, Canada and all over the states. I have friends who are stay at home parents, lots of artists, authors, students and more variety of other jobs than you can even imagine.

Right now I am waiting in an airport getting ready to board a plane that will take me to Toronto to meet a few of these people face to face. I am so excited to be able to see people and hear their voices (it's odd, right now everyone has an American accent, I wonder after this weekend if I will "read" their words with their voice?) Some would say it's a little nuts to plan a trip to meet strangers, but I can tell you these people are no strangers. I know what their kids are doing in school, I know their struggles and their joys, I know who recently bought a house, who is still looking. I've read their stories and their poems, seen their artistic creations, celebrated the joys and cried over the sorrows. I also know we are all so excited to see each other we have been driving everyone around us crazy for the past few weeks.

More people couldn't make it than can make it,and I can tell you that the ones I won't meet won't be any less "real" to me. And I will have lots of pictures for them to see that will give them the feel that they were there as well. And they will be, in our conversation and on our laptops! We are all connected with a push of a button. And I like it that way.