Techdirt pointed out that, according to Network World, the internet is partly to blame for our lack of close friends these days. It is an interesting study that was done that shows that although people might have hundreds of friends on social networks like MySpace and Friendster, they have fewer close friends then ever.

Close friends are defined as someone who you can talk about “important matters”. I suppose that varies from person to person, but it still rings true to me that people are definitely more scatter-brained and less-focused than I can ever remember.

But I wouldn’t necessarily blame the internet - it is just giving people a tool, like the television before it, a sense of false socialability. I can’t recount the number of people I’ve met in workplaces who spend substantial time and energy discussing television or movies - and yet, have no other real bond between them beside the multimedia experience itself.

The internet does pretty much the same - gives people a way to discuss events, websites, theology, or even marriage and can create relationships that are fun, but nearly harmless to break. Our investment in these relationships is cheap and minimal - if it goes away tomorrow we’ll be fine. Besides, there are thousands of more people to meet on the internet anyway, right?

Instead of properly including more real people in our Real Life social network, we only have a few close friends and give away most of our energy on lessor matters to, basically, complete strangers - bloggers, chat buddies, email circles.

I happen to think, however, that the internet is an excuse for some of these people. Are you the kind of person who can’t sit down and just chat with a buddy - in person - for several hours? Whether at their home, or at the Barnes & Noble cafe? Or are you the kind of person who has chance meetings with “friends” in parking lots and talks a lot about “getting together”, while shifting your weight from foot to foot and fiddling with your car keys?

There is another aspect to all of this. The internet has made us less dependent on Real People. Therefore, our inately created need for social interaction is met elsewhere and we have little left to give.

If you feel like you would like this to change, I can offer a few solutions.

1. No Internet Day. Take one day a week with no websurfing, no emails, no nothing. Even if you are in a net-centric job (like me), it still pays to do this. Naturally, I’d highly recommend Sunday since it is still a slower day of the week for most, despite the overturning of Blue Laws.

2. Develop a Monthly Call List. This is a list of 20-25 people that you call at least once a month. These should not be names of people you now already talk to everyday - co-workers, your spouse, your parents/children. Put the list in your wallet, organizer, or purse and include only their addresses and phone numbers. Don’t tell them they are on a list - just call and say “hi” with no agenda. Review the list every few months. You may find some people never call back, never answer, or are always in a hurry. Maybe move them off the monthly list and put some other folks you’d like to get to know better on the list. Try to make the list an even balance between people who are below your station in life and people who are above.

3. Check your Sent Mail. Is your outgoing mail always filled with hyperlinks to websites, news clippings, or blog posts? Sort by particular people and see when the last time you sent a “Real” email to them - about you, your life, etc. Then, send them one. If you don’t have a lot of time, consider sending out a little newsletter update. It may sound campy (it is!), but it is not as campy as the garbage you’ve been spamming them with previously. Don’t put any hyperlinks in the newsletter and talk only about Real Stuff - relationships, friendship, home life, the past, the future, etc.

4. Have people over. Oooh, here’s a tough one, eh? It’s easy to have people over for an event or some special occasion, right? It’s easy to have a lot of people over to nibble on butter cookies. Nothing wrong with that. But try having just one person over - or one couple - or one family. No formal preparation of the entire house, no special food - pick something you’d normally eat. Just invite them over for dinner and good conversation (not dinner and a movie!). Try to do this with someone different once a month. Obviously, your “No Internet Day” would be a good day for it. You probably will always think your life is too hectic to do it if you don’t “just do it”. Eventually, you might get invited to their place sometime, but to start, you are going to have to plan on about six months of going it alone.

5. Add 10 More People. Go through all your contacts (you do have a list of all your contacts, right?) and find ten people who you barely know. Maybe you met them once, or you know of them at church or work or some organization you belong to. Maybe your spouse is good friend with their spouse, but you don’t know them hardly at all. Put these ten folks on a list and then write down next to it a strategy or method you want to use to get to know them better. You might have them over, you might just ask to stop by their office, you might just ask them out to eat lunch one-to-one for a quick lunch bit.

Get started on this and you’ll see some positive results in just a few months. You’ll feel more in-touch with Real People, and less reliant on the internet.

Technorati : community, email, friendship

Posted in: Community