Originally posted on Fuel the Future.
Let’s face it: We are living in an over-networked world, with very few boundaries between life, love and work. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what all this connection means to our already overly scheduled lives and what the payoff is from having thousands of Facebook friends or Twitter followers.
During the recent recession, millions felt more than a passing urge to “connect.” A sudden job loss or threat of another round of layoffs had everyone running to create profiles for sites such as LinkedIn, then social networking became a fully integrated affair (after all, Twitter and Facebook are part of the overall alpha package of someone who is active and vital and available in said social age). Did any of us who grew up in the Big Brother era ever think we would want people to follow us and watch everything we do and note everywhere we go?
Four years ago, when connectivity hadn’t yet gone into overdrive, I was working at JWT and diagnosed with a brain tumor. My robust network of friends and colleagues was only enhanced by my virtual lifeline—texting and emails—which made me feel surrounded by people who cared but not smothered.
Now (with a clean bill of health), I’m immersed in the world of networking gone wild. I’ve talked a lot about “social” in the past year or so, but as knowledgeable as we are about this new means of connection, I have no explanation for why I have never physically met many of my Facebook friends or why people I count as best friends aren’t even on Facebook.
What is the return on all this investment into social media, anyway, besides a horrible codependence on our computers and phones, and some unwanted stalkers? Sure, it’s about information, job opportunities and some sort of competitive advantage in having scads of Facebook friends. But perhaps the ROI is becoming blurrier, as there seems to be some confusion about which sites serve which purpose—are they social, professional, flirty, bluntly sexual? It’s becoming less and less clear who is playing in your sandbox, and for what purpose.
With gay marriage being the talk of the town in New York these days, I wonder what the protocol is in our hypernetworked age when it comes to wedding guests: Do you have to invite those who comment most on your posts, even though you might never have met them in person? How has all this connecting changed the notion of how we define friendship, and real closeness? Are we becoming immune to what “real” friendship is in favor of something far more superficial?
In 2011, do our social networks and online groups define us, or can we still lay claim to our own selves as unique individuals with private lives that don’t exist online? There’s a real air of desperation in this endless need to connect, but with the recent news story that Facebook might have lost about 6 million users in the U.S. in one month, according to Inside Facebook, I wonder if the return on all these newfound friends and an extended network of supposedly like-minded people is really worth the investment.