A Lonely Connected Life

I often turn online relationships into in-real-life. I meet incredible people online, why wouldn’t I want to meet them in person? Upon meeting, I often get the same response:

Thank you for meeting with me. I know how busy you are.

Wow, you know so many people. Your calendar must be packed. 

You have so many friends.

Regardless of meaning to, people sum you up before they meet you. I pride myself on being very much like my online persona. People meet me and say — you’re one in the same and that’s refreshing. So they know the basics… I’m extroverted, love to chat, work in HR and I’m always out and about in the community. But then comes the assumptions, I’m popular {because I have a ‘following’ obviously}, I’m intimidating {because I throw down the smack obviously}, I’m organized {because I’m involved with a lot of things obviously}, I’m loaded {because I live the sweet life obviously} and I’m spoiled {because my parents totally took care of me obviously.}

All of it makes me laugh. Just a wee bit ridiculous. Popular? Well in high school I was totally introverted and more academic, book worm than gossip girl. I have friends that I love, yes — but I wouldn’t call it 90210. Intimidating? I have a bit of a no-bullshit way to life and I definitely voice my opinion whenever I get the chance. I get this more from guys, then girls… I think it may have to do with gender norms than anything else. Organized? I’m the worst. Do I have my heart in my work and life? Absolutely. I respond to meeting requests weeks late, my email Inbox is a disaster, tweets overwhelm me and I haven’t checked the voicemail on my landline since September 2011. Loaded? I was raised well but my parents didn’t pay for everything growing up. I spend the money most would use for a house downpayment on travelling the world and I shop at H&M rather than Holt Renfrew. Spoiled? I spoil myself from time to time, does that count? ;) This week I went for a mani/pedi — and I loved it.

I usually just look at people in shock and say:

Stop being crazy. I’m just me.

Over the last 8 years the online world has had a much bigger impact on my life. I’ve had the opportunity to connect and meet with incredible people. People who I hold close to my heart and would do anything for. I’ve had the opportunity to grow my brand and have a voice in the community. I’ve had the opportunity to learn so much about myself and the world. I’ve had the opportunity to give back to others through a new medium.

Every so often, I get home on a Friday night, check Facebook to see what I missed, laugh over the latest Instagram pics, respond to the 30 mentions on Twitter — and then think whoa. Not whoa I just spent 30 mins on social media, but whoa no one called tonight… whoa I never called anyone tonight. It’s 8pm on a Friday — it’s been a hell-ish week and I just want to go out for a glass of wine.

Where are my friends?

Regardless of all the positives of social media and living in a connected world — in-real-life relationships are still gold.

Over the last year, I’ve probably been the worst friend that I’ve been in my whole life. I constantly feel pulled in a million directions and I often don’t keep up with the time quality friendships require. I tend to ‘book’ friends, whether that mean scheduling them in the calendar or blocking time to ‘save’ for friends. I send birthday cards late. I go 2 months without seeing a friend, even though I’ve been thinking about them everyday.  Couple all of that with the fact we have shifted to a world of Facebook announcements — everything from the new baby to the marriage to the new job to the cancer scare. And if you miss the update? Bad friend alert.

As a generation, we have to commit to knowing everything about our friends through two channels. Remember the days when you would talk to your friend every 24 hours and catch up on what happened at school, the fight you just had with your mom and what you thought of the boy down the street? If you were really intense you talked on the phone while watching Saved by the Bell, maybe a little MSN chat action too. You would say things like — Hey let’s hang out Friday… Ok, sounds good!

It was easy.

We live a busy, scheduled life. Social media competes with work, which competes with community involvements, and friends and family. While I was in Costa Rica in February, I missed the birth of a friend’s baby. A friend from university who I totally cherish, but because we live in separate cities now most of our communication is online. The announcement goes out on Facebook — baby born! I catch the update 3 weeks later. THREE WEEKS. I was horrified. I missed the birth of her first baby. Damn you Facebook. If I had written it down I wouldn’t have missed it, but instead I depended on technology just like it wants me to.

I share therefore I am.

If I don’t sign into Facebook everyday… I miss birthdays. If I don’t wish a happy birthday to all of these people that are mostly my friends {but gosh I don’t know, Facebook is a bit of a beast and there’s for sure people in the slew that I don’t know at all anymore} … then they will look into it. What a bitch. She didn’t wish me a Happy Birthday.

Expectations of friendship hasn’t changed — but technology has changed. And I don’t believe we’ve really thought through how the two intersect. Lines have blurred. We’ve swapped hugs for texts. We have a fear of interrupting other peoples days and plans because they might be ‘busy.’ We default to email communication and hiding behind the computer screen when we don’t want to deal with something. We text, tweet and talk at the same time.

Just because you put out a lot about yourself online doesn’t mean that the people listening are your friends. Just because you know a lot of people doesn’t mean they are quality relationships. Social media complexes the traditional ‘networking’ and friendship models.

Focus on quality over quantity.

This morning local dynamo, Sonia, shared a TED talk by Sherry Turkle: Connected, but alone? It was originally created for TEDxUIUC in February 2011 and has now been picked up on TED.com. The talk focuses on how we expect more of technology than we do of each other and it was a great watch.

As a global community, we are connected. As a Gen Y community, we are dependent on being connected.

This isn’t a call to action for you to be less connected. This is a call to action for you {and me} to be more aware of how you spend your time and how dependent you are on technology. Commit to yourself that you will be a good friend and value your in-real-life relationships. Do whatever you need to do to remember birthdays, weddings and all the things that matter to the ones you love.

Call people because you care. 

Send a card in the mail because you’re thinking of someone. 

Your ‘followers’ on Twitter, your ‘friends’ on Facebook, your ‘connections’ on LinkedIn {and the list goes on} are just numbers. Forget about influence, focus on friendship.

At the end of the day:

  • Who would give you the gold star for being a great friend?
  • Who would hold your hand if you were going through a health scare?
  • Who have you helped lately?
  • Who has your back?
  • Who knows you?

What do you want to be known for?

The popular girl?

Or the girl that changed the world surrounded by people who had her heart?

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