Category Archives: 21st Century Friendships

The Hard Facts: Is Twitter Chatter Ruining Friendships?

It’s Research Wednesday! Where I share the latest, or most fascinating, in the science of friendship.

“The shortcomings of social media would not bother me awfully if I did not suspect that Facebook friendship and Twitter chatter are displacing real rapport and real conversation … The things we may be unlearning, tweet by tweet — complexity, acuity, patience, wisdom, intimacy — are things that matter.” (New York Times, “The Twitter Trap” by Bill Keller)

This isn’t so much the latest in the science of friendship as it is the latest in the journalism of friendship, but when the executive editor of The New York Times writes a piece on how Twitter and Facebook are ending real-life friendship, it’s worth noting.

“I’m not even sure these new instruments are genuinely ‘social,’” he writes. “There is something decidedly faux about the camaraderie of Facebook, something illusory about the connectedness of Twitter. Eavesdrop on a conversation as it surges through the digital crowd, and more often than not it is reductive and redundant. Following an argument among the Twits is like listening to preschoolers quarreling: You did! Did not! Did too! Did not!”

There is certainly some truth to this. There are undoubtedly people who use Facebook interaction as a substitute (albeit a poor one) for the real-life kind. I know some of these people. It’s no joke. They delude themselves into believe that wishing someone a happy birthday on Facebook is equal to a a live phone call.  Or that messaging each other on Twitter is akin to sharing a breakfast burrito over brunch. It’s not.

But there is an opposite argument. In a response to Keller’s essay, Jenna Wortham of the New York Times wrote this: “For me, the exact opposite has happened. The stream of pleasantries, links and comments that I exchange online have only served to heighten my craving for in-person interactions at the end of the day. Laughing and gossiping outside of a Google Chat box (even if things we’ve read in the Internet often fuel a large part of the conversation) feels like a necessary antidote after a long day of silently staring at a computer screen and monitoring news alerts on my phone.”

Wortham goes on to say that Twitter has in fact emboldened her to approach potential new friends in person. She explains a recent experience when she met–in real life!–two people to whom she is virtually connected. “After following them both online for months and exchanging good-natured messages on Twitter, I was beside myself with excitement to finally meet them offline. I can’t imagine I would have been bold enough to introduce myself or strike up a conversation had we not built up a kind of camaraderie on Twitter in the weeks before.”

Clearly it can go both ways. If I had to make a personal call, I’d say social networking has amped up my social life. I never stay in so I can peruse Facebook or update my Twitter feed. I do, however, sometimes meet people I’ve only spoken to on those sites. That said, I see both sides of the argument.

Where do you fall? Think online conversation is displacing face-to-face contact? Think we are unlearning social graces? Or does the constant glare of online networking make you crave real-life interaction?

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Filed under 21st Century Friendships, The Old Days

Drama? Or Just a Friendly Check-In?

At 1 pm on Saturday I got a text from a friend: “Are you home?”

I was sure something bad had happened. This was not a friend who has ever casually popped over to my place. Another pal texts to ask if I’m around whenever she walks her dog by my house in case I can come to the window to chat. But the Saturday texter? Never. I pictured her crying on my street corner—what had caused the tears would be explained later—with no where to go and no one to turn to.

I would be that shoulder to cry on and listening ear! I was ready! In remembering this moment, I feel like I should have been wearing a cape, determinedly flinging it over my shoulder. Rachel to the rescue!

The reality was a bit different than the imaginary drama. Turned out my friend was at the bakery on my corner with her BFF, and wanted to introduce us. I threw on a pair of shoes and headed to my neighborhood cupcake haven.

The true motivation behind the text was a much better than anything I concocted in my head. I was psyched that my friend thought of me and that she wanted me to meet her VIP pal. But still, what kind of crazy person assumes that anyone who writes “are you home?”must be in need of urgent help?

It reminded me of an article from The New York Times a few weeks ago. In “Don’t Call Me, I Won’t Call You,” Pamela Paul writes about the death of the friendly phone call.  “It’s at the point where when the phone does ring — and it’s not my mom, dad, husband or baby sitter — my first thought is: ‘What’s happened? What’s wrong?'”

I’d go one further. Whenever anyone inquires about my whereabouts in any way—be it via text or phone call or email—I assume there must be a problem. You know, one of those “Where are you? Are you sitting down? I need to tell you something…” messages.

My heart goes pitter-patter when I get a voicemail from a friend.  But if a local pal calls in the middle of the day, and we don’t have plans later or something specific we need to discuss, I must admit I still register some surprise. In writing this blog—and having posted often about the decline of the telephone—I’ve become much better about phone chatting. Considering I often wax nostalgic about that lost art of conversation, I decided I better improve at it. In fact, one of my New  Year’s Resolutions was to hone my phone skills. As in: if it’s ringing, answer it. Don’t wait to listen to the message and mentally prep for voice-to-voice contact.

I’ve gotten much better.

Next up: Accept that someone might ask where I am because they want my company rather than because they need my help.

Have you been there? When you hear unexpectedly from a friend, is your first thought that something must be wrong?

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Filed under 21st Century Friendships

Everyone’s All A-Twitter

Over the past few weeks or so, it has felt like Twitter is in the air. Obviously the 140-or-less service has been huge for some time now—duh—but lately it feels like every link I click takes me to an article or blog post about the best feeds, or exactly what to do, or, perhaps more importantly, what not to do.

First I read author Allison Winn Scotch’s blog post on how some authors annoy her with their self-promotion. Which led me to writer/blogger Nina Badzin’s list of Twitter do’s and don’ts. Then there was Time magazine’s recent list of the best Twitter feeds. Some of my favorites, including Mindy Kaling and Neil Patrick Harris were included…while others (ahem, R.L. Stine) had me sprinting to hit the Follow button.

When it comes to social media and connecting with other people, here’s my take: Facebook helps me connect with people I do know, Twitter helps me connect with people I don’t.

I am happy to “like” something or someone I don’t know on Facebook. I “like” authors and books and blogs and companies. But I am loath to “friend” a complete stranger. Something about it just feels, to me, a bit off. As if I’m creepily begging someone I don’t know to be my best buddy. (That said, when someone I don’t know friends me I almost always accept.) And even when I do become Facebook friends with someone I don’t know well, their status and photo updates rarely teach me about who they are, just what they did last weekend. I like Facebook for keeping track of my cross-country friends, who I can’t talk to every day or even every week, and for hunting down long-lost acquaintances. It lets me feel like I still know what’s new with them.

With Twitter, on the other hand, I feel like I can get to know someone. I may even go so far as to say I’ve made (virtual) friends through the service. A 140-character limit forces you to get to the heart of your message, and a personality often shines through more in a short quip than a long essay. Twitter feels conversational, and I have absolutely no qualms about following people I don’t know personally. That’s what it’s all about.

Lately, I’ve been focusing mostly on Twitter. (Follow me!) It seems a more acceptable forum for which to do the kind of social media connecting I’m interested in—namely to share links, comment on pop culture, follow interesting people and meet blog readers. I pretty much use Twitter as a place to share the random thoughts I’d reveal to my BFF if she were sitting right next to me while I’m watching TV. (Thus you may notice I do a large majority of tweeting at night, when TV commentary is overloading my brain and no one’s around to to share it with.)

For example, this tweet from Tuesday night when I was up too late and somehow found myself watching—stop judging me!—All About Aubrey  (it was late, I was desperate, I loved Making The Band…. I have no excuse): “Why does Aubrey O’Day keep saying on her show that she wants to be anorexic? Probably not the best choice of words.” No joke, I was watching that show and after the second time she referenced trying to act like “a good anorexic girl,” I looked around my living room for someone, anyone, to stare at in disbelief. Was this actually happening? Was Oxygen really airing it? But alas, there was no one to share in my horror, so I went to the Tweeple.

So that’s why I’m into Twitter these days. It’s most definitely no substitute for a BFF, but in the moments when you need to voice some snippeted pop culture outrage, or ask a question, or share your new favorite YouTube video, and your pals aren’t around, Twitter’s a decent ear.

Are you on Twitter? Which do you like better in the Twitter vs. Facebook debate? Which do you think is better for connecting?

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When Your Only Communication is Online

Here’s a fact: I did absolutely nothing yesterday to advance my friend search. Aside from a family lunch, I didn’t leave the house.

I spent the day digging myself out from a pile of emails, a task that’s been on my to-do list for about a month and a half. I did play catch up with some friends, but it was all over email and gchat and text. I played some old-fashioned board games with other friends, except it was through new-fashioned Words with Friends, my latest iphone Scrabble-like obsession that requires no face-to-face interaction with my opponents.

I’m not gonna lie—it was kind of lonely. Not sad or depressing—I socialize plenty, so a day off was fine—but I have to say that connecting over and over online didn’t make me feel more connected, it made me feel more separate. It was as if each Gchat and email reminded me that I was sitting alone on my couch.

Again, this is no pity party. Two years ago it might have been, but yesterday was just a day I chose to stay home and plow my way through a to-do list. But after all my talk of whether or not technology helps us feel connected, it was interesting to participate in this unintended online-communication-only experiment.

I’ve heard social psychology experts say that the people with the most Facebook friends are often actually the loneliest. And now I can see how this could be the case. Facebook chatting is not the same as an in-real-life gabfest. I’m not saying that I don’t appreciate technology. It definitely helps me keep in touch with the people in my life. It also helps me forge new connections, like those with the readers of this blog. I’m not looking to go on a techie cleanse (that would have made me feel really isolated yesterday), but online communication is no substitute for the real thing. As opposed to making me feel energized (as girls nights often do), connecting only through technology made me kind of lethargic and grumpy. There was no laughter, just a lot of speedy typing.

And the worst part? At the end of the day, when my phone rang, I hit ignore. I felt tired and distracted and not up for actual voice-to-voice chatter. From all I’ve read about true loneliness, the biggest threat is that if it brings you down too much you retreat instead of seeking social interaction. Sometimes, loneliness begets more loneliness.

My Thursday was a like a microcosm of what a technology-only life could be. The lesson: You don’t have to give up digital interaction, but don’t ever fool yourself into believing it can replace the real thing.

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The Wedding Gift Question

I got married over a year ago. Which means, in theory, I should have received gifts from everyone on our guest list. I have not.

This isn’t a huge surprise. With every wedding there are some guests who don’t deliver. I don’t know if they don’t think they have to, or it slips their minds, or what. I assume that it’s usually a case of forgetfulness—either they think they’ve already given you something or they planned to do it just after the wedding and then they totally spaced.

I’ve been thinking about this because a friend of mine—let’s call her Phoebe—was in town this weekend. Phoebe wasn’t able to attend our wedding and hasn’t gotten us a gift yet. She is horrified at this fact. Much moreso than I am. She actually tried to buy us a gift when she visited last time but there was a credit card mixup and the charge didn’t end up going through (long and not-that-interesting story).

While we were hanging out (read: making cleanse-approved broth), we got to talking about the gift thing. The “rule” is that you should get a couple a present within a year of their wedding.

“I’ve actually seen a friendship fall apart because one guy didn’t get the other a wedding gift,” Phoebe said.

It seems a silly thing to lose a BFF over. But one small misstep snowballs into bigger drama, until suddenly there’s built-up resentment rotting the whole relationship. (To be clear, my friendship with Phoebe is not falling apart. In fact, she told me what she’s getting me. Fun!)

With Phoebe, I really don’t mind. (As to the handful of guests who fall in the no-gift category, I have varying degrees of annoyance. It’s case by case.) She knows, she’s apologetic, whatever. Her friendship is more important than her gift. And it’s not like I invited people to the wedding just for presents. You invite people because you want to celebrate with them and because you want them to witness your special day.

So the question is, does traditional etiquette apply when it comes to close friends?

Take the thank you note. Personally, I couldn’t care less about receiving them. When I do, I read and throw away. The best gift I can give a close friend (along with the actual gift) is to let her off the thank-you-note-writing hook. “Part of my gift is that you don’t have to write me a note,” I told my new-mommy friend earlier this year. “You saw me, you said thank you, that’s enough.” She looked as if I’d given her a pot of gold.

When I send a friend a gift, all I need is a quick email or a text saying, “I got it! I love it!” Makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. A thank you note seems so formal, and close friendship is about comfort and informality.

Phoebe totally disagreed. “If I go to the trouble of buying a gift, I want them to take the time to write a note.”

It comes down to where you fall on Emily Post-style manners line.

For me, when it comes to close friends, traditional thank-you notes are unnecessary. I don’t need ’em. As for wedding gifts, I say people should follow the one-year rule. Will I end the friendship if they don’t? No. Will I notice? Yes.

What do you think? Should close friends adhere to old-school etiquette? What are the exceptions?

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Pay For Play, Friendship Style

There was a time when going online to find a mate was considered “weird.” Maybe even pathetic. That time is long gone.

Online dating is standard operating procedure these days. One of my closest friends just got engaged to a fabulous guy she met online. It works, people. But you already know this.

So what about finding friends online? Would you go there?

It seems like new friending sites keep popping up. When I started this blog I quickly learned about GirlfriendCircles.com and GirlfriendSocial.com, which are both basically Match.com for female friendships. Since then I’ve learned about CompanionTree.com, the coed version of a platonic friend-matching site, and… drumroll please…Rentafriend.com.

Yes, it is what it sounds like.

Unless it sounds like an escort service. Because it promises in BIG BOLD LETTERS that it is not a front for any sort of escort situation. It is merely a site in which you pay people to spend time with you. Hmmm. (It bears noting here that the majority of “friends” for hire post pictures that are a bit more than friendly—hello, cleavage!—and the majority of customers “purchase” friends of the opposite sex.)

Here’s how it works. First, you sign up for a monthly membership: $24.95 per month or $69.95 for a full year. Then you can browse potential friends (actually you can do this before you sign up, but you can’t get contact info for your new BFF until you sign up) and see their rate-per-hour, anywhere from $10-$150 per hour (usually $20-$50). Yes, beyond  your membership fee you need to pay the friend directly for whatever time you spend together. Once you spot the profile of your potential bestie, you can contact her by phone or email, and set up your playdate.

I first read about the site on msnbc.com. Apparently it is modeled on “hugely successful sites in Japan and Asia,” and people hire friends for anything from business trip dinner date to weekly companion for their elderly mother. My favorite example in the article? “Two students rented parents to meet with college officials after they were caught drinking on campus.” Um, that’s not hiring friends. That’s hiring actors.

If I sound skeptical, it’s because I am. But the site’s founder, Scott Rosenbaum, says the site receives 100,000 unique page views a month and has nearly 2,000 paying members. Perhaps it will catch on. But isn’t the very nature of friendship reciprocal? We both want to spend time with the other? A partnership of equals?

And what happens after the first friend-date, if you hit it off? Does future companionship come free?

Glutton for punishment—and curious friending guinea pig—that I am, I’d give this site a try. I’ll find the one Chicago lady not shoving her boobs in my face and invite her on an outing. A crowded one. That takes place in broad daylight.

Who knows? It could be like any other girl date. You know, besides the part where I pay her $80 for hanging out with me. Now there’s a confidence booster.

Would you be willing to meet friends online on a site like Girlfriend Circles, Girlfriend Social, or Companion Tree? What about Rent a Friend? Would you try it? Under what circumstances?

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Filed under 21st Century Friendships, The Search

Caution: Objects May Be Lamer Than They Appear

Yesterday was Matt’s birthday. For the next seven months I will be married to an older man. Scandalous.

The search for the just-right card is perhaps the hardest part of any birthday celebration. And because I am a perfectionist only when it comes to the things that don’t really matter, I looked in three different places before picking one out.

During my search I came across a card I’ve seen once before and almost purchased both times. The cover reads: “I’m much more interesting on my blog.”

I haven’t actually bought this card because I can’t figure out the occasion for giving it to someone. Should I buy it as a warning, handing it out to people I meet in this corner of the Internet? We’ll meet for a bite to eat or a drink and before opening my mouth I’ll hand them the card as if to say, “Don’t get your hopes up.”

Or maybe it’s for the aftermath of a bad girl-date. As in, “Sorry we didn’t hit it off. Maybe I’m not who you expected.”

During the months of this search, I’ve met some women with whom I seem to totally click via email. And then when we meet… nothing. It’s as if our cyberselves are a perfect match, but the real life versions not so much.

I’ve never done the online dating thing—Matt and I met before I’d even heard of Match.com—but I imagine you could run into the same issue.

When it comes to modern-day relationships, romantic or not, there’s so much emphasis placed on our online personas. We’re expected to be interesting but not self-important; funny but not trying too hard; friendly but not cheesy; revealing but not to the point of overshare. If you’re not a blogger, than you no doubt have felt the pressure on Facebook or Twitter or even Evite. I recently decided to reject all the pressure to be witty when RSVPing to an online invitation, and now I just click “yes” or “no.” I was literally spending full minutes at my computer screen trying to think of the perfect quip. I had to throw in the towel.

When it comes to online representations of ourselves, we have all the time in the world to craft the perfect profile. But if the fabulous person you’ve described isn’t you, then it’s a big fail.

Another blogger recently wrote about people who were disappointed in meeting the real her after reading her blog. How unnerving to think that who we actually are might not live up to the hype.

Have you ever met someone online—dating website, facebook, or just via email—who seemed totally different when you met in person? Have you ever felt the pressure to be “on” online? Do you every worry you’re more more interesting online than in real life?

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Filed under 21st Century Friendships, The Search