I realized recently that I’ve been communicating with one of my closest friends over IM for more than 10 years. We talk almost daily, several times a day. I have no doubt that we wouldn’t be as close without the ease of IM; we certainly wouldn’t talk on the phone every day.
IM, email, cell phones, blogs and social networks have dramatically changed how I talk with friends and changed the nature of those relationships.
Status messages often are a trigger for communications, inspiring conversations about upcoming (or just finished) trips. Friends use status messages to subtly hit up contributions for charities, to acknowledge such contributions or to flog blog posts. Facebook status messages have allowed me to meet up with friends when traveling. I often learn about world events through my friends.
Asynchronous communication allows me to catch up on what my friends are up to when I have time. I spent most of a four hour flight to Chicago reading about Jon’s trip to Russia and checking out his pictures. It beat whatever was in United’s Hemispheres magazine. Another 15 or 20 minutes went to viewing flickr pictures from other friends. Something we used to dread — friends subjecting us to slideshows — we now seek out and eagerly comment on.
As to Twitter, I’ve gotten more active on it in the last couple of months. So far, it has only taken off among my relatively geeky friends; my Twitter circle is a fraction of my networks on Facebook and LinkedIn.
The permanence of email addresses, cell phone numbers and connections on social networks makes it easy to stay in touch with people in our mobile society. Google and Facebook makes it relatively easy to find lost friends. No more having to guess at where they might live and finding an out of town phonebook or calling 411.
There are some downsides.
The individualistic nature of cell phones, email and social networking have had the effect of reducing incidental communications. Cell phones virtually eliminate the incidental conversations I’d have with the spouses of my friends and family. Most couples I know don’t answer each other’s cell phones and some check caller ID on landlines before deciding whether to answer. My friend Amy was married last year and I have yet to talk to her husband.
A quick Facebook birthday greeting has, for many, replaced birthday cards and phone calls.
Maybe communications has gotten too easy. Social networking tools are constantly suggesting new friends based on algorithms. A few clicks to invite them all. I now have way more high school friends on Facebook than I had friends in high school.
Overall, I communicate with a lot more people, a lot more often. But the quality of that communication can be lacking. It might be a wall post scribbled in between meetings. Or a tweet from my iPhone while I’m waiting in line.
It just isn’t the same as a long phone call or a visit.
I started working on this post in May. Joe Kraus’ post on the social Web inspired me to finish it.