Technology Killed the Friending Star

Obviously I love technology. I’m a regular blogger, a lover of Twitter, and my iPhone might as well be surgically attached to my hand I have so much trouble putting it down. I’m not proud of this. I know it annoys my husband, that’s for sure.

I say this all as a preface to this post, to make clear I know I’m partly (largely?) to blame.

Now that that’s out of the way…

I’ve noticed recently that I’m having a friendship problem I never would have encountered when I made friends the first few times around–in high school, summer camp, college. Here goes: Some of my new friendships have become so dependent on email/IM/facebook/text as a means of communication that we’ve lost our face-to-face social skills.

I have a handful of friends with whom I can endlessly banter via one of these techy mediums–our emails are witty! our texts are poetic!–but in person it is simply awkward silence. We’ve developed relationships so dependent on technology and that backlit screen buffer that when we’re just sitting at lunch, face-to-face with nothing to shield us but our turkey sandwiches, we don’t know what to say. Screens have backspace buttons and buy you time. Conversation gives you one shot to say the right thing, and if you don’t, there’s no way to delete it. You’re stuck.

What’s frustrating is that these slightly tension-filled get-togethers are so hard to understand. Everything is perfect online, why can’t we be the same in person? What’s holding us back? It feels like an elephant at the lunch table.

I was at such a meal last week, and I almost thought aloud, “Weird that we suddenly have nothing to say.” It seemed one of those unnecessary verbal gaffes that could only make an awkward moment moreso. Remarkably, I contained myself.

I love emailing. Writing is my medium, so I really do like getting to know someone over a letter–even if it’s an electronic one. But I don’t think that my being a journalist is what’s causing the problem. I think we’re all just adjusting to the decreasing emphasis put on face-to-face interaction, eye contact, and personal attention.

So, please share, is it just me? Or have you found yourself stuck at a lunch, wishing you could text your friend-date from across table, just to break the ice?

9 Comments

Filed under The Search

9 responses to “Technology Killed the Friending Star

  1. Jen

    Ha, I was just thinking this the other day! I was going to write a post about it on my blog–more along the lines of how some friends are easier to keep in touch with only because they have multiple ways of contact, especially Facebook. Those friends who don’t have Facebook, are harder to get a hold of, take longer to reply to emails, etc. I was wondering why some relationships felt like they were stronger even though situations had changed–cross country moves, babies, crazier jobs–and the only thing I can narrow it down to is social media presence. My college friend lives in California with 2 little kids and works full time, but I know what’s going on with her and speak to her more than my very best friend from Kindergarten who has no kids and lives in the same time zone. One’s on FB, the other isn’t. Strange, huh?

  2. I was afraid of this kind of thing happening when I was doing online dating – like we seem to get along well via email, how does that translate to face-to-face interacting? I don’t think it’d be totally out of line to mention that on a quiet friend date, and it may even help – I’m sure you’re not the only one at that lunch table noticing this.

    It sounds kind of strange, but to avoid this kind of thing, I “save” a lot of my news and stories for in-person meetings with some of my friends, because we probably would run out of things to talk about otherwise.

  3. Robin

    I was just talking about this last night! I’ve become so reliant on email, texting and Facebook to communicate, and I think it’s really ruined my social skills. I’ve actually gotten a little weird about being on the phone. Part of that is because I work on a computer ALL day, so it’s easier to just dash off a quick message, and for some reason, the older I get, the harder it is to carve out time to be on the phone. Last night, I called a friend who lives out of town that I haven’t spoken with for a year, aside from FB comments here and there. She’s busy with two kids, school, etc, and she said it’s so much easier to just hit “like” than actually put in the time on the phone. But I miss real face-to-face time with people! This technology is supposed to be bringing people together, but lots of times I think it isolates us even more.

    • Jen

      YES! I feel the same way about the phone and it’s gotten worse the longer I’ve been in the workforce. My husband doesn’t understand–his jobs have never been THAT computer dependent for communication–he always asks, “why are you texting her? Just CALL.” I always feel like I’m bothering people when calling (besides my parents or in laws, ha).

      And YES, it is so much harder to carve out time to be on the phone! At night, I’m doing a million things, I can’t imagine what it’ll be like with kids. Speaking of kids, I never want to call my parent friends in the evening. I don’t know what the nighttime routines are, and don’t want to intrude. I know, if they didn’t want to or couldn’t talk, they wouldn’t pick up or would ask if we could talk later. But still. Also, if it’s been awhile since you’ve chatted, it’s always awkward at first. (at least for me) I wish that one in particular would get on FB just so I would have more of an idea what her life is like since she’s not a huge writer when she emails. And then I could do brief back & forths with her. Seriously, I know more about people who I was barely friends with in college than I do her life right now. And that makes me sad. But I can’t force people to write me back.😦

      • Robin

        Jen, I know what you mean – I feel like I’m bothering people too, which is probably not true. Maybe you should just go ahead call her, or try to make a “phone date”?

        I know I felt nervous calling my friend last night…since it’s been so long, I started to feel like she didn’t care, but I think people just get really wrapped up in their own stuff…I’m not even that busy and I know I do with the day-to-day stuff. Maybe a once a month phone call would be more doable. Status updates just don’t compare.

  4. Laurie Lee

    I haven’t had any awkward silences but there has been some “Oh yeah, you posted that on FB” type stuff. I used to be pretty gung ho on the status updates when I was first on FB but now I’m much more selective in what I post and I don’t put it all out there.

    I feel comfortable with my in person social skills but like some others have said I feel intrusive calling, probably because texting and emailing are so unintrusive. I’ve also gotten used to concise communication so having to call a couple of my friends that refuse to text just to say stuff like “I’ll meet you at 5” seems like a lot of work. I wonder how this will all look in 10 or 20 years?

  5. Another Callie

    Oh yes, I have been pondering this very topic for awhile now! When emailing a friend, if I know I’ll see her tomorrow, I find myself guilty of being very selective in what I write in the email. I’ll give a little detail, but not too much so that I know at least we’ll have one thing to talk about the next day. Otherwise, yes, that elephant is all to happy to show up!

  6. If you’re comparing nowdays with your friend making abilities in “high school, college and summer camp” you have to remember a HUGE part of that is that its SO much easier to make friends when you’re young. I think its difficult when you get older and always has been, even on the days before Facebook and cellphones. It’s more to do with careers, babies, marriage and moving that gets in the way of making best buddies.

    • Jen

      That’s an excellent point. Not to mention that back in the day, we were constantly surrounded by peers and it was super easy to make friends. I think life just gets in the way of a lot of stuff now. It’s sad, especially if you have to start over or build up.

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