Friday, June 5, 2009

Connecting the dots

The dream always plays out the same. I'm traveling with my family and arrive at a random place with other familiar faces. Social networking friend is there too. We say hello and I immediately withdraw because even in dreams Chris will be Chris. It goes on for a bit, and I can see the disappointment building in a face because we thought the connection meant something to both of us, but not this time. Not today. We don't speak at all which can only mean the connection meant nothing.

Needing to analyze every last detail, I'm sensing a small problem. The place I'm at in life is lacking in real, personal connections. I do not have many friends (very few, count-them-on-one-hand close and dear friendships), I'm not very outgoing, and more or less isolate myself for reasons that might require a small fortune to hash out in therapy. It makes me a very lonely bloke, socially. And I lack the courage most days to overcome it.

However, social networking sites like twitter and facebook have proven nice, pro-Chris settings to engage with people, connect, and thrive, albeit behind the magic of rose-colored glasses made of pixels. I have made 100s of connections with people, the core of which are some I've known most of my life on the book, and still others I've only casually known not more than several months via tweets.

These connections have value to me because what is lacking in the arena of normal living where I'm required to exist with other skin jobs, I've uncovered new ties in abundance thanks to technology. In their own ways, these people are all amazing to me. And further, I'm really drawn to a handful of them.

In weird, social networking ways, they matter to me. And if given the chance, I would very much like to call them my friends. Is that sick? Can someone explain why it's embarrassing to admit that?

A couple of my really good real friends do social networking too. And all we've done, essentially, is add a new dynamic to already thriving relationships. We're largely up to speed on the details of each others' lives and the social networking angle just provides more convenient ways to touch base. I've smelled their homes, tasted their cooking, heard them laugh, watched them smile, held their newborns, hugged them at parties, grieved with them at funerals, and sweated with them through weddings.

Real friends. Real life.

The technology hatched bunch of connections are a "see only crowd." I get to read what they care about, and in turn, get to decide if I care about that too. They might post pictures and leave links to their blogs, all geared at revealing greater insights into their lives. I'll update and they may or may not have thoughts on whatever the hell I care about.

Does that mean I know them? No. Not really. But, the English language is such that in 140 characters or less I'm pretty good a picking up certain attitudes, feelings, prejudices, thrilling moments, moods, aspirations, cultural tastes, bad decisions, lucky breaks, hard times and good times.

Life happens in the social-networking universe. And like real relationships, a certain evolution takes place at which the connections become stronger or weaker, more honest, or even more honestly repulsive.

It's just damn crazy to say I know them -- now or ever. The brain being the brain, however, it just wants to connect the dots and fill-in the blanks, or paint mental pictures of people and call them friends based on what? Status updates?

So, I'm left with a few real people friends, and a small group of social network followers(?) that I share a somewhat "you enrich my day, and hopefully, I enrich your day" give and take arrangement.

This is an equitable situation. I think... Or is it ... ?

I catch myself discounting the social networking bunch back into the bargain bin of casual acquaintances: not too hard to find, not too hard to relate to, and not too hard to converse with because a computer screen and the world-wide-web provide an adequate insulation to real life interaction. And that's a good fit for Chris. It's a safe place to mingle.

But a few of them... there might be something there, and I might really like to meet them.

So, again, why do I deflate their importance when all I really want to do is call them my friends. I need them. I really enjoy their company, and look forward catching up with them and seeing what they're up to.

Maybe, it's hard to admit that my real life might not be rich enough, socially, so now I'm desperately giving substantial amounts of weight to the connections of strangers that I can't ever really know.

Historically, my most rewarding relationships were seeded after risking the safety of my comfort zone. In college, I deliberated for weeks before asking a dude in class if he wanted to play tennis sometime. He was very good; a lot better than me. I'm sure the tennis was boring for him and thrilling for me. But soon enough, a friendship was born. And it's a connection that I still count amongst my most precious.

It makes me wonder if there's any such purchase in the soil of social networking.