New Definition of Social

A week ago was my birthday, and in the days and weeks leading up to it, I starting noticing other birthdays of friends and acquaintances on Facebook, and the number of people who would drop a line on the celebrant’s wall wishing them “Happy Birthday”. It made me think about the new definition of social, and how much I don’t like it.

Don’t get me wrong – Facebook is a fantastic site, and it has certainly brought people together who would otherwise have drifted apart. It has created a massive online community with its own culture.

That doesn’t mean it can’t fail.

There were people who, prior to Facebook, would call to say hello, would remember birthdays and send a card or call to say “Happy Birthday”. Now they use the convenience of Facebook to allow those relationships to drift apart. What has happened is that there is now a common middle ground toward which all relationships have migrated.

Those we were drifting apart from now know every event we care to share online, while those we would keep in close touch with before are now slightly further apart. Everyone is pretty much the same in the online world.

Additionally, we have lost our ability to segregate groups of people. The friends I have from school are not necessarily similar to my coworkers, while neither is really part of my family. In real life we isolate the groups from one another, and only allow them to mix under certain circumstances. On Facebook, we have one massive network, most of which does not really care about the other portions of our network.

What can we do about it?

First, we must decide if this actually bothers us, and if so, what approach we wish to take. I prefer to keep my Facebook page active, but I also try to keep my offline social life unchanged. I still call people, or send them personal emails. I don’t assume that a message left on Facebook will reach someone – if I really need to contact them, a minimum of an email, and ideally a phone call is how I continue to handle it.

How about you? What are you doing to maintain your relationships with people? Or have you allowed Facebook to redefine your social life?