Digital interaction is an interesting thing, isn’t it? Through Twitter, we have meaningful conversations with people we know only online. Our Facebook accounts reconnect us with friendships we previously thought were lost to time. We carry our friends with us wherever we go and thrive on the capability for instant interactions. Some of us are reliving our past, while others of us are making business connections. In the process, many of us have broadened our definition of a “friend” to include those people we have just met, and we share the most unremarkable parts of our lives as if these friends were “long lost,” rather than “newly made.”
We, humans, are social animals, of course. Most of us like engage with others so that we can have an understanding of where we fit into the fabric of our culture. We Americans, in particular, are finding ourselves growing disconnected from those around us. We overwhelm ourselves with extracurricular activities to occupy our time, we work too much and relax too little, and we focus on getting “things” done, rather than experience doing “things.” Overall, we have lost the personal connections to the people in America who make our “stuff,” grow our food, or frankly, those who live next door. It is almost as if our desires for personal independence and self-reliance have eclipsed our need for social interaction. They have not, of course. Our requirements of social interactions are just different now from before.
Today, we try to balance our desires with our need for social interaction by leveraging digital technologies into the mix to help us maintain our connections in the lulls of our daily living. We all do it, but some of us do it better. It seems to me that each generation appears to connect and build relationships differently using technology. For example, I have observed that Millennials use social media as a way of extending their daily interactions with their friends. With their mobility restricted by expansive neighborhoods and overprotective parents while growing, they had no choice but to explore new online social technologies as a way to maintain their friendships. As a result, communicating by text, Facebook or MySpace is the same as a phone call or a face-to-face conversation. Social media and the digital technologies that support it are fully integrated into the life of most Millennials.
Observations of Generation X show me that they rely heaviest on cell phones for social interaction, I suspect because most were in college when mobile phones became affordable for and adopted by the masses. Texting and social media tools appear to be time-consumers that this Generation has not yet fully embraced. Instead, they are practical about the use of social media, engaging with those pieces that benefit them most (such as using Twitter to build business relationships), disengaging when there is little personal gain.
Baby Boomers appear to function best using face-to-face, phone, and email communications but are rapidly adopting Facebook. I think, they can “see” their friends and feel engaged in those lives as if they lived next door. This closeness is important to Boomers, especially as they age because it seems to provide Boomers true “social” opportunities in the context of their primary interests: connecting with old friends, sharing political news and views, discussing religion and exploring hobbies.
Each generation has found a way to make social media technologies relevant to their own lives, to give us opportunities to connect with others regularly, as we allow our culture to put increasing demands on our time. The ability for us to bend and mold social media tools to our individual needs, values, and expectations is what makes it work so well in building and re-building our valued connections.
We need social media tools to help us maintain our ability to be human in the face of the demands made on us by our culture, our peers, and ourselves. These tools are now such an essential part of how we function as individuals and who we are together as a community, that living without social media and supporting technologies is unthinkable.
It is clear to me that social media allows us to maintain some degree of sanity in our lives. Without these tools, we would give up what little socialization we do enjoy; and I am not so sure that would be good for our minds, or our souls.