I had a very interesting discussion with some friends yesterday about the changing nature of relationships. There’s no question that the different generations have different expectations, which is causing great ripples across society in general.
Here’s a powerful question: What is the essence of a Facebook relationship?
The answer you get depends a lot on your age, and what technology you grew up with.
For those who grew up before the 1960s, the answer will often be that true relationships can only exist in personal interaction, and any electronic form is a very, very poor way to maintain them. Yes, you can talk to your sister on the phone, but that pales in comparison to getting together for dinner. It’s expected that most rich interactions will be infrequent, perhaps just once or twice a year.
For my generation, which grew up in the 1960s and 70s, we became comfortable with the idea that the phone, and then email, could represent real connections. Yes, we’d get together, but a relationship might feel incomplete if there wasn’t more regular contact.
This rate of contact has increased with the advent of Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, et al, but for some younger people it appears that the importance of frequency has overtaken depth.
Yes, I realize that I’m showing my age here.
But I’m not ready to say that one way is better or worse than the other. I do wonder sometimes if changing the depth-of-relationships is correlated with advancing divorce rates and such, but I’ll leave that to smarter people to figure out.
The question is how we apply this knowledge. First, we have to realize that there are striking differences about the meaning and nature of relationships. Just because your boss likes to interact over email rather than meet you face-to-face doesn’t mean that she doesn’t care about you. And when you see friends discussing uncomfortably intimate details on Facebook, recognize that they’ve grown up with different definitions of trust and privacy.
The point is to be attentive to these differences, and adapt accordingly. Not that you’ll adopt a style identical to that other guy who’s experiencing some success right now – but watch and learn from it. Then make decisions which are compatible with your own principles and goals.
And at some point you may just have to create a Facebook account to stay connected with your grandkids!