I’m fascinated by the plethora of sites on the Internet that have been designed to facilitate something that our parents and grandparents did ‘naturally’ — meet other people. I’m not even talking about dating services here, like match.com and friendfinder and so on. Rather, I’m intrigued by sites like Ryze, MixerMixer, Friendster, just to name a (very) few! Oh, and of course, in its own league and rightly famous in San Francisco and elsewhere is CraigsList, a place where tens of thousands have snagged an apartment, bought stuff, found roommates, commiserated about love and loss, and — yes — made new friends.
I know that many people, including my own loving and quite-bright parents, are unable to fathom the value and humanity of such sites. In their day, they had (and continue to have) absolutely zero problems in meeting people and having a rocking social life.
Fortunately, the stigma associated with using the Net to make social connections has all but seemingly disappeared, at least amongst people my age (31) and younger. After all, what’s not to like about having free or inexpensive databases at your fingertips that, for instance, allow you to instantly spot people with similar interests living nearby?
Of course, there are those who dysfunctionally take this sort of networking to an extreme… building ‘friends’ and ‘significant others’ from the ether without any corresponding physical contact to clarify and solidify the bonds. Indeed, I do firmly believe that neither true friendship — nor, certainly, true love — are possible without the in-person component. Combining the concept of one’s soul with one’s communicative presence, I think it’s reasonable to assert that there’s nothing “there” there if you’re, well, not there in person. After all… as we learned in my undergrad Communications classes, communication is more than 90% non-verbal. How can typed words on a screen possibly convey even the remaining 10%?
Another problematic aspect of online networking is contact overload. Just as it’s possible to overeat at a gourmet buffet, so too can one be quickly stretched thin with too many contacts.
When it comes down to it, networking is a process and perhaps imperfect art… online people-mining sites are amazing tools… and, ultimately, Balance is the key to the success of successful contacts and connection. It is easier to contemplate and write about, however, than achieve.