Let's imagine for a moment that there's this amazing thing called the facebook status update, let's say. At any given point in your life, you can post what you're up to so your friends know instantaneously that you're doing something awesome--making cookies, for example. They can then respond to you in whatever manner they deem appropriate, be it "liking" your status, posting a reply to your status, or actually showing up at your doorstep to sample the goods. In theory, it promotes furthering some kind of relationship with the people who you're close enough to be friends with on the internet.
In theory, social networking tools like facbeook, twitter--even blogs maybe--purport to keep you in touch with your friends and moving forward with them. If you always know what the other is up to, you can respond to them, interact with them, create with them in an ever-faster way. That's got to be good for friendships, right?
Well, tonight, as I logged in to facebook to look up the start time for the symphony rehearsal that James and I are going to tomorrow, it struck me that most social networking relationships actually happen in the past. Ideally, relationships happen dynamically, in the present tense. I talk to you; you respond to me; we move forward together. The thing with facebook or twitter or what-have-you, however, is that unless you're logged in every single moment, you're always a step behind. Especially for someone like me, who logs into facebook every few days maybe, the status update is something that gets backed up and forgotten: with all those friends posting all those instantaneous status updates, of course there's no way I will ever see them all in a timely manner. Some will drop off the bottom of my feed and will be lost to digital oblivion forever; some I will see days later...if I'm not careful, I fall into the catching-up trap, where I spend all my time simply reading everyone's backlog status updates and never even talking to anyone that I care about. Luckily, that doesn't happen very often. But it strikes me as the fatal flaw of internet relationships.
Sure, it's nice to see what people are up to. It's nice to be able to read about someone's life on my own time. I don't think I want to give it up entirely--throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. But the problem seems to be that with so much information all at once, you're never going to be interacting with someone else in real time. You're always out of phase, responding to each other in time lapse, passing each other but not quite touching, if that makes sense. It may be better than nothing, in some cases, or it may be impeding a real relationship in others. I don't know. But I do know that I'm very careful not to assume that anyone has necessarily seen anything that I've posted in the internet, be it on facebook, this blog, or whatever else. And I hope that no one out there is assuming that I know everything about them because they posted it somewhere. I still need the real, both-of-us-present-at-the-same-time kind of communication to make the internet quasi-communication real. And I hope that's always the case.