Real life versus virtual life…the balancing act

I must admit I have a growing interest in how it seems that the use of social media in certain segments of our society is rewiring the very way we make connections in our lives. I have noticed with younger folks like my son and even my brother, that young folks simply do not “connect” the way same my generation, Gen X did. Now it is the norm to send a text rather than making a call, in fact I know many people young and old who are pretty frank and upfront that they prefer you don’t call them, I admit at times that makes me sad but hey I roll with the punches.

A friend I have known online for over a decade (we met via a hair discussion board) and I often tweet about the issue of making connections and the impact social media has on relationships. For my friend she lives in a vibrant community, in close proximity to her family of origin and others so for her social media is something she can take or leave, it adds some value but her life is full and rich enough that she neither desires nor needs it to be more than a form of entertainment.

Yet as someone who relocated 1100 miles away from a rather small family that has only gotten smaller and found myself needing to start all over, I have a complicated relationship with social media and I suspect I am not the only one. For starters making friends is plain fucking hard the older you get and I have had many people say this to me as well. Especially once you hit the 30’s and you start juggling the demands of life partners, kids, career, etc it simply becomes easier to keep your friend circle restricted to people who already know you. However at the same time we are in a place and time when many people are far away from home, we are a mobile people and for various reasons family and friends that have always known us may not be accessible. Never mind some of us have family and “friends” that are dysfunctional and it may be best to let them be.

This is where social media can be a blessing or a curse, one of my dearest friends in Maine; I met online through a local mothering group. I admit for the first several years of our friendship I had no idea whether it would become a deeper connection or just a surface connection as many of my local relationships are. It became deeper but to make that happen, we had to do the work of actually leaving our houses. It meant breaking out of our comfort zone and in our case heading down to the local coffee shops and talking…funny thing is the more we spent time together the more we connected because often things that were said online that left me scratching my head, made more sense when I could hear her voice and see her expressions.

A few weeks ago, I stumbled onto the story of Kiki Kannibal and while there is so much that can be said about this girl’s life there is no denying that social media and the internet have played a huge role in her life, and I am not sure that is a good thing. Read the article, it’s long but it’s worth reading. Kiki used the internet to make community and in many ways that plan failed not only her but her entire family, yet the tragedy is that in her own words she says she doesn’t know how to make friends. Stop the presses; a young lady does not know how to make friends. I am sorry but as a parent I feel our role is to model inter- personal connections yet that is not happening. Lately I keep reading pieces that speak of parents being the culprits hiding behind i-gadgets, Droids and Blackberries, so much so that our kids are telling us “Listen to me”. Last weekend I mentioned how good it felt to be present in most moments all because I unplugged, yet this past week I once again fell back into my trap of using social media to escape.

However, the universe decided to play a little joke on me that forced me to get out and connect once again. Our car ended up in the shop for longer than we expected so I ended up doing way more walking than usual. I admit we normally drive to the Farmer’s Market despite the fact it’s exactly a 7 minute walk from my house…really that five minutes or so we save in the car is not worth it. In walking around though I connected with the world around me, talked to neighbors, and actually hosted some kids in the driveway with some hula hoops and basketball. The connections made just in those passing moments were far more satisfying than most of the passing and fleeting connections I often have online that somehow I become engrossed in. But at the same time as the case with my good local friend the connections we make online have the capacity to grow and become deep but we must be willing to do the work to make it happen.

To be truly healthy I believe that for most of us we need to be balanced, that means balancing out our online lives with what is around us in our day to day lives. It means if we need a community, a virtual community can be a great place to start but if your virtual buddies are nearby why not meet up in real time? Locally in Maine, we have monthly tweet ups in the Portland area, I have yet to actually attend one but know others that do. I also know of at least two couples that initially met on twitter and in both cases, the couples are now cohabitating and still tweeting. That is balance, that is healthy, that is proactive. In fact thanks to a local tweep, I am going to rather real show this week in Boston, looking forward to seeing Sade and John Legend. A concert I most certainly did not have the ability to go see had a tweep not remembered I mentioned being a fan of Sade.

As I try to manage social media in my life because even though there is a Luddite lurking deep in my soul, the truth is social media adds value to our lives, where else can I talk to 800 people and actually have a discussion with 30 of those folks? Yet the danger lies in when we or I don’t realize the value in knowing my neighbors, after all my favorite tweeps aren’t going to watch my house when I am out of town nor can their kids play with mine. In the end maybe our relationships with social media is similar to the relationship many of us have with food, it must be a balanced diet tailored to what works for our respective bodies.

3 thoughts on “Real life versus virtual life…the balancing act”

  1. LOVE this piece. I have big thoughts on the nature of friendship and adolescents as a result of FB, or as part of FB. (I don’t do FB for now–it’s been half a year). Mainly wondering will they ever learn how to really break up, move on, say BYE and have it be a healthy break in all kids of relationships–if friends are forever on your feed–and never go away?

    We’re headed to an internet free island for a week! My kids and I so need it…

    OK back to packing, and thinking about all of this. Looking forward to finding a way for us to connect OFF LINE later this month!

  2. I like that, in the future I may have to use those phrase since I really don’t like the implication that time spent online is somehow not real. It is very real.

  3. Have you seen this? I really like it. I try to refer to online and offline life rather than “real” or virtual. Spending time together offline definitely changes the dynamics, and in some cases for the better. 🙂

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