There is no such thing as strangers, just friends you haven’t met yet… or is there?
I do not really need to tell you how much we are connected to one another, we hear it all the time – but if I were to bang around some numbers to put it into context, we’re talking about the digital and physical manifestation of six degrees of connectedness, or less, between 2.08 Billion active social media accounts¹ and 7.3 Billlion people on earth². Even if not every person on earth is on a digital platform, all the people who aren’t, are some way connected to those who are. The idea itself is a reference point for our connectedness and how small the world really is, even if for the most part, we are experiencing it first, digitally.
The new normal is that we continue to embrace technology which has allowed us the opportunity to actuate our digital lives, in real life. In an online world, we see niche communities connecting to other niche communities, which is then connected to everything else. Social media offers humanity a link of the chain, linking one person with one idea, en masse. This is the beauty of the world we live in now – a world where people can be connected in a meaningful way to another via a keyboard, through a swipe and touch of a screen. Each person’s connection is a vector to another, which we may not have reached or had the opportunity to meet. And we now have the power to spread it however long the links of the world will take us.
But what if it’s all one big Ponzi scheme?
Do you often come across social media profiles that have the self-aggrandizing 5,000+ Facebook friends or the 500+ LinkedIn first-connections, after their name? I do. And I also often wonder whether it is humanly possible to be connected to so many people. My best guess is that these people find it easiest to maximise their first level connections – with the more people they are directly connected to, the more second and third level connections they have, making it easier for them to network until their hearts’ content using this pseudo network Ponzi scheme – using introductions such as “I know you from..”, “I know you through…”. Grrrreeat!
People who have these mammoth digital connections are merely ‘bridging’; with that many said connections, it would seem almost impossible to strengthen each relationship they have, right? I’m sceptical it can be done. As I continuously add on more connections, I find myself constantly reviewing the existing connections I have, and whether they have stayed as digital connections, or have they developed into real-life ones.
Are we merely becoming great acquaintances?
Doesn’t help that we’ve come across this phrase at least once in our lives – “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” which underlies the premise that interacting with more people is inherently better than interacting with fewer people. The reality is, if we go by this, we don’t know hardly anyone. So, I’ve recently started expanding my social media network to include the like-minded, sure, I consider these new connections as ‘online friends’, we have great banter and share laughs online – but I also suspect many of their 1,000+ social media followers in turn consider them as friends too. And judging by their social endorsements – likes, favourites, retweets, if the social media community is any barometer, their impact on others is perhaps far greater than they would ever know. However, clearly, if we peel back the layers of knowing someone, say, a friend; most of us are not friends, really. Social media and its connections merely forces upon us a feeling of intimacy and closeness that doesn’t actually exist. And in comparison to my friends, pre-social media age, many of whom I have known for a long time and grew up with, I know almost nothing about my ‘online friends’.
So unlike people who seem to chase after the Bacon number or the Dunbar number, the more years I am on social media, the more discerning I have become on who I add as my connection. As social media gets bigger and more pervasive, the meaning of ‘friendship’ becomes even more difficult to cross. As my own networks in social media have gotten larger, increasingly I find that I end up talking less about my personal life, because I know for a fact that there are people in the group who do not know me. The real me, anyway. Of course, I do find exceptional situations where I ‘meet’ someone through social media and have had the opportunity to interact in real life, only then a relationship is developed, in my eyes, a friendship.
Understandably, new social media platforms – the likes of Path, EveryMe, 23Snaps, FamilyWall, Kleek and even Google+ etc., which are offering more privacy and exclusivity to connect among existing friendship circles, are gaining popularity. These new more discreet platforms to connect provide a chance for a do-over for those who want to create new groups of connections that are more carefully cultivated, differentiating from the Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn profiles that have gradually become digital voyeur central. It is with time that we will start to see the increasing compartmentalisation of our lives through the diversification of social media platforms – where there is distinction between the ‘broadcast me’ with the ‘intimate me’.