Single Mom. Social Butterfly. Insomniac
These three qualities have left me with hours of spare time sandwiched between 8:30 pm and whichever wee hour of the morning my body and mind finally collapse into exhaustion. Bored by television and in the mood to socialize, online networks have provided the window into the outside world I craved.
I have two main sources of direct social connection at the moment: Google Plus and Facebook. I find I use both of them for very different reasons. For years Facebook has given me the opportunity to reconnect with lost friends and stay abreast of the every day happenings of my closer friends and family. Now Google Plus gives me new content discover and interest based connections.
I was delighted when a high school friend tracked me down on Facebook. Reconnecting for the first time in 15 years she told me that her memories with me were some of the happiest from her childhood. Year later, we found our lives hadn’t been that different in the intervening years. We both have 2 sons and are divorced and we still enjoy and easy camaraderie.
Other Facebook friends include grandparents, aunts & uncles, cousins and far distant friends who enjoy the posts about my daily life and photos of my kids. Separated by distance, we’re still able to follow the basics of each other’s daily lives. I know when their kids are sick, when they get a raise, a chance to see the picture of my cousin’s wife baby bump, birthday parties, food adventures and all the small details that make up a person’s life. From across the country I’m able to feel like we’re still a part of each others lives.
Recently I’ve noticed a growing trend of broadcasting. I’m observing a lot of chatter: “I’m doing this” or “Pic of kid” or “I am here”. I’m seeing less and less commentary on each person’s broadcast of their life. I don’t know if this is simply busy lives, a growing fatigue at maintaining the social connection, boredom with the homogeneous content or some sort of mix. Even I feel challenged to find relevant comments. After the 100th picture of a friend’s child or pet I find have nothing new to say or contribute. You can only say “How cute!” so many times and still sound authentic. The thing is, I still really enjoy seeing these pictures; I just don’t know what to say without sounding contrived or cheesy.
I find that I’m using Facebook more and more to see the trivial details that breed familiarity but we’re losing the conversation that’s involved with discovery. We share the intimate details of our daily hum drum, but we’ve quit challenging each other to think. This familiarity seems to prevent us from exploring the differences we still share; instead allowing those same differences to drive us further apart. Without the conversation it’s really just a bunch of people all chattering about their own lives.
This brings me to Google Plus
I’ll admit, Google Plus isn’t for everyone, at least not in the manner I use it. For me, Google Plus is about new content discovery and finding new contacts; contacts based on both common interests and challenging view points. The circle format gives me the chance to follow new people while maintaining my privacy and the ability to form long posts means I get more than a 140 character snippet of thought. Instead, there’s a conversation 40 million voices strong.
I understand that not everyone is looking for new content the way I am. Many are simply to busy or hesitant to add new people in to the streams of their lives. “I don’t care about the opinions of strangers” is what I hear from my friends when I talk about Google Plus. It’s not that I care about the opinions of strangers for making decisions in my life, it’s that I find people inherently interesting. I love the discovery of commonalities across distance and I also love having my world view challenged.
One evening my sister and I played a nerdy board game, Settlers of Catan. Both the group of people and the game were new to me, but I had a blast. I was invited back to play again with the group, but the logistics of babysitting make getting there a challenge. The next day, a quick post on Google Plus netted 6 people who were interested in playing online. Within an hour we had an online game setup and using the Hangout feature were able to video chat while playing. Nearly instantaneously I found like-minded people to explore my interest.
The compelling nature of the group Hangout feature is that it allows me to know the people I interact with online face-to-face. True dialog. We share some of the daily chatter, we debate life, we joke, we play, we get the chance to really know each other. Text posts take on more meaning when I can hear their voice reading it to me.
Things I’ve gained:
- We’ve challenged each other to get fit from across continents
- Shared meaningful thoughts about our favorite childhood books
- I’ve come across new art which I purchased
- Had the pleasure of hearing about how Hangouts started
- Exposed to new music
- Debated merits of different healthcare systems in the US versus Canada