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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Monday, Oct. 20, 2014

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Bad connections

In the past four or five years, the nouns "friend" and "relationship" have become terms with such vast definitions, I wonder if we can really define them anymore.

The onset of social networking, particularly Facebook and Twitter, has allowed the average person to have hundreds, often thousands, of "friends." It has provided the opportunity to build "relationships" most never thought possible.

When it comes to business, marketing, advertising, fundraising, professional networking and social awareness, (to name a few!) I'm not sure one can quantify the positive effects of social media.

We now live in an age where, in just 140 characters, you can rally the troops to help someone in need, or expose the masses to new products or events.

But I think buried beneath the obvious gains, we are experiencing serious losses in a world dominated by our computers and cell phones.

I hope I'm not the only user of social media (and constant text messaging) who is becoming wary of the way our world is "connecting" and cultivating "relationships."

(Disclaimer, this is not a finger-pointing article, unless I'm pointing the finger at myself. It wasn't until I began to observe my own habits on social media and how it was affecting me, that I became more sensitive to how others use it as well.)

These public domains are no longer just a jumping off point for communication between friends and colleagues. It is becoming the only way we "talk" with one another.

Twitter began as a tool to share information or reconnect, but with increasing numbers, it seems more like public text messaging.

Users now have conversations with one another "discussing" everything from happy hour meetings to how couples want to spend their Friday date night.

Seriously, people are setting up DATES in PUBLIC on TWITTER. (See a column I wrote in 2008 about doing this via text message; unacceptable.) Pick up the phone and keep your personal life personal, people!

I'm not some old fogey who thinks we need to stay put in the dark ages when it comes to technology, but I am genuinely worried about the quality of our social bonds.

When you are limited to 140 characters, how intimate are we really getting with our so-called companions? And how is it damaging the real friendships / romantic relationships we already have?

While the advent of text messaging and tweeting has allowed us to instantaneously share information, it also provides an easy wall to hide behind.

The only "you" (or me) people are seeing, are the ones we choose to put in text.

There are no facial expressions to truly reveal emotion; no inflection of voice to ensure the person on the other end really gets the message.

There are no shoulders to cry on; no hugs or high fives to offer.

And even when we are together in a social setting, how many times are we picking up our cell phone to alert Four Square of our location, or tweet what we are having for dinner? (And seriously, who really cares?)

(Therein lies material for an entirely different column. The number of reality-show like, self important, pat me on the back tweets are reaching epidemic proportions. You won a game of horse today at the gym? Really? Do you want a blue ribbon? An extra chocolate milk at lunch? Sigh ...)

My good friend and colleague, Jen Lada, got a good laugh a week ago when I told her I was having a "power down" day. No Twitter. My goal was to make minimal checks of the cell phone and e-mails. (Cut me some slack, I don't have a home phone!)

Guess what? The world -- my world -- went on without catastrophe.

In fact, I was able to listen to Jen when we were having lunch. Neither of us were busy grabbing our phones at every buzz, ding or ring. We had a real conversation. And you know what, when the mask of 140 characters came down, we still liked one another.

I am imploring our fine, intelligent, HUMAN society to power down every once in a while. Talk with your friends, family, and significant others. When you make a new friend on Twitter, invite them to have lunch. (In a public place, that is well lit ...just in case!)

Imagine how powerful these same networks can be, if we really got to know the person behind the handle! Brief encounters can only take us so far and provide us with so much. In all reality, the "relationships" we are forging aren't much more then a few well constructed, thought out words meant to impress, flatter or catch the reader's attention.

Instead of building strong links with one another, it seems as if we are loosely tying knots that can easily become undone if something better comes along. Which is all much easier to do behind a computer and a facade.

I would hope we all long for exchanges with one another that are much more enriching than a funny one liner about your office mate, or the suggestion of a book you never actually discuss.

And if the thought of shutting it all down and opening yourself up is just too much to handle, find a therapist to help you get over your issues. I'm sure someone on Twitter or Facebook will give you a good recommendation.

Talkbacks

littletinyfish | Aug. 3, 2010 at 11:52 a.m. (report)

35524 Why do you treat your social network so seriously? Your friends don't need to be held tightly in an iron fist. There are all kinds of levels of friends. Shoulder-to-cry-on friends, good friends, acquaintances, business associates, internet friends, etc. You should stop worrying about the demise of society and start applying these important delineations to your own network. Most of the people you meet aren't that important and you should start treating them that way. Twenty years ago you'd be saying the exact same thing; only now you get to say it to more people.

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