On public displays of affection — but not that kind

people and relationships, society

Today, we send and receive notes publicly in a way that seems shocking when viewed by communications standards just a decade ago. Expressions of friendship, social plans, etc.

“I miss you!”…
“Hey, are you going to Fred’s party tomorrow?”…
“Save me a dance this Wednesday!”… etc.

Why do we like this, why do we post rather than e-mail? Bonding? Convenience? Insecurity? Is it just an extension of the old “You’re the greatest!” scribblings we got in our high school year books? 🙂

I feel torn about this.

On one hand, I must confess to being oft-delighted by both the chance to quickly share warm feelings or make arrangements with friends and acquaintances all over the world, many of whom I might not otherwise have a chance to more formally or personally converse with.  But on the other hand, this almost seems like a narcissistic and lazy version of friendship, and a behavior that’s not particularly seemly in someone who is nearly four decades old.

I’m almost past feeling bad about not handwriting letters anymore.  I still feel awful that I have unreplied-to e-mails in my inbox from dear friends that I’ve put off for “when I have time,” yet here I am writing a blog post.

Have we become a culture of relationship snackers?  Has the ease of publishing, of communicating, of virtual hugging (not to mention cow-throwing) resulted in an exciting and perhaps overall-positive broadening of our social circle… but at the expense of deepening relationships?

What do you think?  Why are we so drawn to this micro- and public communicating?  What does it mean for us?  What does it mean for relationships?

9 comments… add one
  • Graham Jun 2, 2009

    As with most things, I think this can have the effects you mention, or completely different ones, depending on how it’s approached by different people.

    For my part—and looking at just the example of, say, Facebook comments vs. private email—I don’t think it’s too “shocking.” Those examples you list, for instance, aren’t anything I wouldn’t say to someone at a crowded dance, where lots of people *might* overhear, but few are really paying attention. But I don’t know if you were actually trying to make a point about privacy specifically there.

    As for quality of relationships, again mileage will vary, but I think it can be a net positive. A lot of these public comments are trivial enough that I wouldn’t bother sending an email, or making a phone call, or whatever. So it’s not a choice between shallow and deep communication, but rather between shallow communication and none at all. If you look at it that way, I think it can be good to just maintain a little more constancy in the personal connections, instead of having long gaps and then having to write long “catch-up” emails or whatever.

    Another thing that’s nice is that casual comments can occasionally lead to deeper connections. Recently for me, the process of turning a casual acquaintance into a good friend was started by a comment I made on a Facebook quiz about her favorite bands. That was totally worth a few lines scribbled on a Facebook wall. And don’t forget that I first met *you* when we commented on each other’s blogs. 😀

    Of course, the most important thing is to remember that there *are* other forms of communication, and to use them when appropriate. If your entire social life is Twitter @-replies, then you could probably be doing better. The friendship case I just mentioned only worked out because things progressed to actual emails and conversations.

    Oh, and something to keep in mind about my perspective is that I’m very much an introvert. I tend towards fewer and deeper relationships, and those aren’t going to be threatened by some online chit chat. Increased amounts of more casual communication is therefore an expansive change for me, and a net positive. Someone starting from a different personality could have a very different experience. E.g. it might not be helpful for someone who is already both very extroverted and very shallow.

    I happen to love handwritten letters, so I should probably go write some. It’s been too long. 😀

  • dillon Jun 2, 2009

    A post plays a different role than the email. A post is for anyone to view and comment on, while an email is another creature altogether! I tend to believe that posts are more therapeutic by their nature. They are expressions of the self in a way that emails are not.

    Emails seem to be much more formal as they are usually directed towards a single or small group of people. Either way, the times and styles of communication may change, but people will always find a way to express themselves.

  • Lindsay Jun 4, 2009

    Our generation seems to have gone down from slackers to snackers. Interesting label.

    Actually, with technology changing so quickly it may not be fair to group us by generation any longer. People in their 20’s text and twitter, people in their 30’s use Facebook, people in their 40’s like blogs and email. These are not generations apart but there are notable differences by the decades.

    I think the definition of friendship is changing. We have contacts and networks and followers. But do we have any real friends – the people who you can count on?

  • Cheryl Beckham Jun 6, 2009

    I have mixed feelings on the subject, faster isn’t always better, but’s all good!
    Cheryl

  • cheryl Jun 7, 2009

    Friends are friends and no matter how you slice it, your true friends will stay with you!

  • sandra Jun 9, 2009

    You pose an interesting question. I feel that even if a relationship is not “deep” it is still a relationship on some level. The main thing I have found is that we must take care of the ones we love the best, the rest will come and go.

  • Odchudzanie Aug 12, 2009

    I don’t know is this really so controversial. It would be amazing from someone from the past that there are so many efficient methods of sending information. That technological progress gave a boost to cultural changes. And that is normal thing, past times the telegraph made information more and more valuable because it could be sent to hundreds of miles with seconds instead of days. And now it is nothing more but more sophisticated and available telegraph that everyone can use. People just used to communicate with short massages that have still small space to express feelings. But that space will grow fast to enormous size and sending movies within cell phones soon will be available.

  • Jon Nov 5, 2009

    Hey Adam,
    has you scribbling in your high school year book?
    chuckle.. Our high school year book is a really nice idea. I miss this in good old Germany.

    But back to the topic. I find write an email is more time-consuming and generally annoying than just even write a sms or login to a messanger.

    and as a last resort we own cellphones ;D

    quote: this almost seems like a narcissistic and lazy version of friendship

    But I hate friends which only say “hello” or writing to you if they dont have nobody else. Jon

  • ThatAdamGuy Jun 12, 2010

    Graham, I see your point. I was actually thinking less about privacy, and more about the choice of venue; with your example, for instance, asking someone how they’re doing only when you see them at a dance with a group of other people vs. calling or e-mailing them. Oh wait, I guess I already do that, too Hmm :\

    I do particularly agree with your note about these light-interactions being a complement to, rather than a substitute for deeper interactions, at least in most cases for hopefully most people. Though sometimes I wonder. I know of people who spend 1+ hours a day on Facebook (perhaps less-so now than previously)… so at least in theory, that’s potentially one less hour a day to spend on more substative, deeper interactions.

    re: handwritten letters… wow, I don’t even know if I could write a whole one today without my hand cramping up. Sad, actually.

    about the light interactions leading to something more substantive, that, too, is a very good point. I’ve had this happen quite a few times in my life, and now for instance count as a good friend someone I met on Twitter.

    Dillon, interesting perspective re: the “therapeuticness” of posts. The very nature of their greater-informality, perhaps, does make them feel less like an obligation, more like something easy and fun. Hmm.

    Lindsay… “slackers to snackers”… heh, that would make for a great title of… something. Band? Book? Movie? Hmm! 🙂 re: the definition (or perhaps even practice) of friendship changing, I think you might be right. Perhaps due to lessened attention spans? More opportunities? (hey, if this friendships / relationship doesn’t work out, there are a million more people I can meet at a moment’s notice online!)

    Odchudzanie… progress, eh? Will be interesting to see what communications and friendships look like in another 10 years ;).

    Jon, good points, and yeah, there is a particularly threshold at issue here, whereby if someone only maintains a “snacking” friendship with you, it can become irritating or even offensive.

What do you think?