Twitter is just a passing fad. Just like telephones. And indoor plumbing.
I hear this all the time from people who have never used Twitter and don’t understand it. At least, I hear the first part. I may have added the parts about telephones and plumbing.
What these people fail to understand though is that Twitter is about connection and online connections and relationships are as real, valid and meaningful as offline ones.
It is easy to dismiss social networking sites as a craze which will soon die down because they don’t produce anything tangible. In a world where we are used to seeing the products of our labor in physical form, the interconnected communities of the cyber world are, to many, unrecognizable as being ‘real’.
As Important as the Telephone
Social Media will have as big an impact on relationships and community as the telephone has had. The fear is that social media will destroy ‘true’ community by creating a world where everyone sits alone in their homes ‘connecting’ through the internet while physically becoming more and more distant from each other.
The telephone has proved that to be nonsense though. For decades now we have had the ability to instantly communicate verbally with each other through the use of telephones but rather than meaning we get together physically less and less, easy communication through telephones has enabled us to arrange to meet more often and more spontaneously and has kept us connected while we are apart.
This is where social media really shines. Far from destroying community, social media improves it by helping us build and maintain connections. Here are three ways it does so:
- Never being apart. Most of us have many old school friends and work colleagues who we would love to still be in contact with but have ‘lost touch’ with due to the reality of schedules, locations and ‘life’ getting in the way. Social media enables us to reconnect with and stay connected to all of our old friends and requires very little time investment to do so. In a matter of minutes, I can scan through the status updates of hundreds of friends on Facebook, many of whom I either haven’t seen in years or who I’ve never yet met in person. I am more connected today with friends old and new than at any time in the past.
- New connections are easily made. Building relationships in the real world is a slow, time consuming process and there is a limit to the number of relationships you can easily build. Online, however, I can be building relationships with hundreds of people at once with very little time investment. Simply sharing something that I am doing or that has happened to me means that hundreds or even thousands of people can feel that I am sharing directly with them and thus that they are a part of my life.
- It leaves us wanting more. We, as human beings, are naturally sociable. We need face to face interaction, it’s just how we were made. Some of us need that more so than others but, whether we like it or not, to some degree we all need to be around other people at times. Far from replacing physical meetings, social media promotes and facilitates them. I would like to meet every single one of my online friends, whether we have met physically in the past or not. The community feeling of building relationships online is great but it leaves us wanting more, it’s not the be all and end all of relationships. I will probably physically meet with more people because of my social media use than I ever would otherwise – and that is good!
Social Media is Here to Stay
Whether you are using social media for personal reasons or for business, the connections made are real and productive. Social media promotes relationships. It may do so in a new way but those relationships are no less valid or personal than relationships formed in any other way.
The sites we use may change, for instance FriendsReunited has been largely replaced by Facebook, which in turn may be replaced by something else in a few years, but the value in the medium of online connections will not.
Do you agree? Has social media enabled you to connect and reconnect with people you otherwise would be completely disconnected from? Are your online relationships any less real than your offline ones?