What Is a Friend?

My friend and colleague Shelley and I are taking our two girls to a company “junket” we’ll both be attending next month in southern California. (We’re calling the two of them the MarketingProfs “Web 3.0″ team.)

The girls are 9 and 11 and live, respectively, in Texas and Massachusetts. Kinsey (the 9-year-old) and Caroline (age 11) have never met in person. But last week, in anticipation of their trip, they started chatting with each other on Skype, the internet phone and chat software.

Their instant messaging quickly evolved into free Skype-to-Skype calls. This past week, they’ve spent some time jointly playing games at various kiddie sites (like Webkinz, Disney and Club Penguin) and chatting all the while—about the game, but also sharing their favorite subjects at school, talking about their pets, what their moms are making for dinner, and so on. In other words, they’ve been becoming friends.

It’s hard not to witness them at their parallel play and think that were it not for time and distance, they’d be squeezed onto the same chair in my office, head-to-head and pouring over Webkinz décor catalogs.

All this is cute and sort of cool. Skype is still a little known and geeky enough technology that I admit that I get a bit of a charge out of seeing my kid cutting her few remaining baby teeth on it. (She is the only kid in her class with her own Skype account.)

And it’s wonderful to see her connecting with an otherwise stranger—confirming that, deep down, little girls everywhere are still just little girls. Maybe it’s not quite a moment where we’re inspired to link arms and sing the chorus of “We Are the World,” (“We are the future…”) but it’s close, dammit.

The real eye-opener came when Caroline’s friend Lorimod, who lives a few doors down, called on the house phone to ask her to play on Saturday afternoon. Caroline wanted to go, but she was torn. Cradling the phone to her stomach, with the Skype headset still around her neck, she said in stage whisper, “But Mom… I’m playing with Kinsey!”

I’m sure there are several ways you can interpret this scene. I can think of two:

  1. You might be horrified that an 11-year-old can think of surfing the internet while talking to her friend on a headset as “playing.” Real playing, in your book, might be tossing a basketball back and forth, or role-playing in a pretend game like school or store, or building a fort with sticks outdoors.Before you bemoan the state of the American childhood, or at least that of my own kid, I’ll assure you that Caroline has done those things—in fact, all three of them I pulled from her experiences in the last few weeks. But if I’m honest, I can’t say she’s done any of them with quite the same energy as she’s approached her time online. She and her friends are a generation suckled on the teats of the Digital Age. They find and trade their new web site discoveries like my friends and I traded Garbage Pail Kids cards a generation ago. This week, she’s added three new friends to her fashion boutique at GirlSense.
  2. You might think it’s cool that the world, according to our kids, is a much bigger place than we ever imagined at their age. “But Mom, I’m playing with Kinsey” is less a quandary than a summation that, in Caroline’s mind, Kinsey is as good a friend, at that moment, as Lorimod, and deserves some loyalty. She didn’t distinguish, as we might, between a virtual friend and a friend in, say, the same time zone.

Contrast Caroline’s perspective with a story I read a year or so ago in the Washington Post, “Social Isolation Growing in U.S., Study Says.” Poynter’s Al Tompkins commented on it when it appeared, saying, “This story says something really sad about the times in which we live.”

According to the study, one-fourth of Americans say they have no one with whom they can discuss personal issues. “That is almost triple the number who said the same thing in 1985. How many people would you say are in your closest circle of confidants? The national average, now, is two,” Al writes.

Adds Lynn Smith-Lovin, a Duke University sociologist who helped conduct the study, “There really is less of a safety net of close friends and confidants.”

“We know these close ties are what people depend on in bad times,” she said. “We’re not saying people are completely isolated. They may have 600 friends on Facebook.com and email 25 people a day, but they are not discussing matters that are personally important.”

Here’s what I wonder, as I watch my own kid navigate the uncharted waters of a new kind of social order: Are social ties really fraying? Or are they just shifting, and reweaving themselves in a different pattern?

We are living in interesting times, in which the very definition of “social circle” is shifting, changing shape and expanding. Our “friends” don’t fit the typical mould, anymore, maybe, but they are friends nevertheless. It feels shortsighted to suggest otherwise.

At least, that’s my take. But what do you think? Is your world a richer place? A lonelier place? Or a combination of the two?

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72 Responses to What Is a Friend?

  1. Paul Chaney says:

    Social media mavens in training! :-)

    The Internet, starting with IRC chat back in the nineties, all the way to social networking as we know it today has made my world a much richer place indeed. It’s opened the door to meeting scores of wonderful, talented, bright, creative thinkers than I would have otherwise.

    Plus, some of the best friends I have in the world have come through interactions within the blogosphere and beyond.

    So, I cast my vote for “richer.”

  2. Paul Chaney says:

    Social media mavens in training! :-)

    The Internet, starting with IRC chat back in the nineties, all the way to social networking as we know it today has made my world a much richer place indeed. It’s opened the door to meeting scores of wonderful, talented, bright, creative thinkers than I would have otherwise.

    Plus, some of the best friends I have in the world have come through interactions within the blogosphere and beyond.

    So, I cast my vote for “richer.”

  3. Charlene Li said, “in the future, social networks will be like air.” When you think of a population who will have been using such things since they were they were children, it becomes easier to understand such a statement.

    I just attended a real-world gathering spawned and organized entirely on Twitter that consisted, for me at least, of people who I had only met on Twitter. IMO, Twitter is currently the most truly social social networking site. There are others, such as WhyGoSolo, which are effectively connecting the online and real worlds, and I have to think this will be a trend in the social networking space. I can’t wait.

  4. Charlene Li said, “in the future, social networks will be like air.” When you think of a population who will have been using such things since they were they were children, it becomes easier to understand such a statement.

    I just attended a real-world gathering spawned and organized entirely on Twitter that consisted, for me at least, of people who I had only met on Twitter. IMO, Twitter is currently the most truly social social networking site. There are others, such as WhyGoSolo, which are effectively connecting the online and real worlds, and I have to think this will be a trend in the social networking space. I can’t wait.

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  6. Mike Keliher says:

    I understand a bit of where you’re coming from: The little girl in the lead of this NY Times piece, Katie, is my sister.

    http://tinyurl.com/2sbdl4

    Anyway, I agree with Nicholas’ citation of Charleen Li above. If social networks and other communication facilitated by the Internet aren’t exactly “like air” in the next handful of years, they’ll certainly be damn close.

    Think about the TV, and how it used to be a focal point of a family’s evening – and now, it’s just *on* in the background, like a light in the living room.

  7. Mike Keliher says:

    I understand a bit of where you’re coming from: The little girl in the lead of this NY Times piece, Katie, is my sister.

    http://tinyurl.com/2sbdl4

    Anyway, I agree with Nicholas’ citation of Charleen Li above. If social networks and other communication facilitated by the Internet aren’t exactly “like air” in the next handful of years, they’ll certainly be damn close.

    Think about the TV, and how it used to be a focal point of a family’s evening – and now, it’s just *on* in the background, like a light in the living room.

  8. Dan Schawbel says:

    Kids are learning quickly, especially with parents who are cultured in web 2.0.

    We’ll have to get them started in personal branding ASAP ;)

  9. Dan Schawbel says:

    Kids are learning quickly, especially with parents who are cultured in web 2.0.

    We’ll have to get them started in personal branding ASAP ;)

  10. I’m not a very social person because I just don’t have a lot of time outside of family and work, and I tend to hate talking on the phone. But for these same reasons, my online friendships have flourished. I can connect with people where I am, at whatever time I happen to be available. Friendships develop through conversation, and it doesn’t seem to matter too much whether the person is standing in front of me or on the other side of my monitor when we’re sharing information about ourselves and our lives. In fact, I think you get more insight into someone’s character through how they write sometimes than through the often shallow small talk conversations that happen when we chat with someone in person.

  11. I’m not a very social person because I just don’t have a lot of time outside of family and work, and I tend to hate talking on the phone. But for these same reasons, my online friendships have flourished. I can connect with people where I am, at whatever time I happen to be available. Friendships develop through conversation, and it doesn’t seem to matter too much whether the person is standing in front of me or on the other side of my monitor when we’re sharing information about ourselves and our lives. In fact, I think you get more insight into someone’s character through how they write sometimes than through the often shallow small talk conversations that happen when we chat with someone in person.

  12. Dan Schawbel says:

    @Nedra – I agree at some level, but also consider the impact level and degree of communication. Nothing in the world can ever beat face-t0-face conversation.

  13. Dan Schawbel says:

    @Nedra – I agree at some level, but also consider the impact level and degree of communication. Nothing in the world can ever beat face-t0-face conversation.

  14. Ann Handley says:

    Paul — “social mavens in training” indeed. : ) But as Nicholas says (referencing Charlene Li), what’s especially cool about these kinds of connections is that it’s as natural and seamless as breathing.

    Mike — Thanks for that link — and very cool, I must say! ; ) My view is less about fretting than about witnessing a shift in how we communicate… which I think is interesting and significant.

    Nedra — I agree — I think you can get a LOT of insight into character by, say, reading their blog post or two or four– esp. over weeks or months. Pretty telling stuff.

    And Dan — No kidding on the branding thing… Something tells me you are in the right field. : )

  15. Ann Handley says:

    Paul — “social mavens in training” indeed. : ) But as Nicholas says (referencing Charlene Li), what’s especially cool about these kinds of connections is that it’s as natural and seamless as breathing.

    Mike — Thanks for that link — and very cool, I must say! ; ) My view is less about fretting than about witnessing a shift in how we communicate… which I think is interesting and significant.

    Nedra — I agree — I think you can get a LOT of insight into character by, say, reading their blog post or two or four– esp. over weeks or months. Pretty telling stuff.

    And Dan — No kidding on the branding thing… Something tells me you are in the right field. : )

  16. Connie Reece says:

    Like Paul, whom I just met during SXSW, I have to say that online connections have enriched my life. It’s especially great when that online friendship extends to face-to-face meetings. Many SXSW attendees have commented about people writing their Twitter names (i.e., @conniereece) on their name badges. They wanted to be sure to meet people they had come to know through short bursts of text — and it’s amazing just how much you can learn about a person through microblogging.

    I love that your daughter did not differentiate between online and offline friends–a friend is a friend.

  17. Connie Reece says:

    Like Paul, whom I just met during SXSW, I have to say that online connections have enriched my life. It’s especially great when that online friendship extends to face-to-face meetings. Many SXSW attendees have commented about people writing their Twitter names (i.e., @conniereece) on their name badges. They wanted to be sure to meet people they had come to know through short bursts of text — and it’s amazing just how much you can learn about a person through microblogging.

    I love that your daughter did not differentiate between online and offline friends–a friend is a friend.

  18. Mack Collier says:

    The value of these social connections really hit home for me at SXSW. I had never met anyone there, but lost count of how many times I greeted someone there with a hug. It’s because we had already bonded over months if not years of emails, comments, twits, etc.

    These online connections are very real.

  19. Mack Collier says:

    The value of these social connections really hit home for me at SXSW. I had never met anyone there, but lost count of how many times I greeted someone there with a hug. It’s because we had already bonded over months if not years of emails, comments, twits, etc.

    These online connections are very real.

  20. Like Connie, I have to admit that I’ve met some amazing people via the web, social networks, new media and microblogging. Connie is a perfect example. She totally RAWKS and I would have never met her ten years ago. In addition to her friendship, she has introduced me to other exciting people as well.

    My kids, (girls age 5 and 8) are of the same ilk as yours. Both own their own laptops, get and send email, video chat and have friends at school that they play with online. Of course, they are heavily monitored and things like email and access to websites are HEAVILY filtered. Only sites and email addresses that are vetted and approved by me or my wife are allowed through (thanks Content Barrier – or “that stupid bear” as the 5 yr old refers to it).

    Because of our unique situation with their schooling, these are opportunities that they would not have to build strong relationships if not for the web. I look to these relationships and the kids interaction with technology as ways to enrich their lives while giving them skills that will be invaluable for their futures.

    Both are sports fans, get plenty of exercise and don’t melt in the sun. It’s all about balance.

  21. Like Connie, I have to admit that I’ve met some amazing people via the web, social networks, new media and microblogging. Connie is a perfect example. She totally RAWKS and I would have never met her ten years ago. In addition to her friendship, she has introduced me to other exciting people as well.

    My kids, (girls age 5 and 8) are of the same ilk as yours. Both own their own laptops, get and send email, video chat and have friends at school that they play with online. Of course, they are heavily monitored and things like email and access to websites are HEAVILY filtered. Only sites and email addresses that are vetted and approved by me or my wife are allowed through (thanks Content Barrier – or “that stupid bear” as the 5 yr old refers to it).

    Because of our unique situation with their schooling, these are opportunities that they would not have to build strong relationships if not for the web. I look to these relationships and the kids interaction with technology as ways to enrich their lives while giving them skills that will be invaluable for their futures.

    Both are sports fans, get plenty of exercise and don’t melt in the sun. It’s all about balance.

  22. Toby says:

    Casting my vote for ‘richer.’ Paul was the first blogger friend who I met in the off digital world and as Connie and Dan say face-to-face is the best. However, that meeting, nor our happy time in NYC last fall nor the time to come this April would have occurred without relationships built through social media.

    As Kinsey and Caroline have proven online is just another way/place to play with your friends. They have the advantage of taking technology for granted which makes the interface natural and not scary. Who knows how their children will “play” with their friends?

  23. Toby says:

    Casting my vote for ‘richer.’ Paul was the first blogger friend who I met in the off digital world and as Connie and Dan say face-to-face is the best. However, that meeting, nor our happy time in NYC last fall nor the time to come this April would have occurred without relationships built through social media.

    As Kinsey and Caroline have proven online is just another way/place to play with your friends. They have the advantage of taking technology for granted which makes the interface natural and not scary. Who knows how their children will “play” with their friends?

  24. Dusan says:

    Wow, for a start I must say I’m a bit surprised on “Skype is a little known”. Yet there must be difference between US and EU, since Skype is from Denmark. :-) What is more surprising, Skype has very nice features of telling what you’re up to at the moment. Therefore I just can’t understand all the fuzz about Twitter. :-)

    On the point, I think there’s just too much assuming on personal experiences. While for people on twitter or Facebook or any other social web technology this is a must-be, there’s still a whole world around that doesn’t care about using this “wonderful tools”. Yet they care about having a beer with people within 200 m from their home.

    There are actually many more groups of people that don’t care about virtual social networks. And while we might think the kids will be different, it might not turn out as true. Some of them will be inspired by this, yet they will fall in love one day and no virtual friend will be relevant for at least a month.

    Just this morning I was thinking of a tool like WhyGoSolo (thxs for this link Nicholas!). For me, the real social networking tools of tomorrow should bring together virtual and real meetings. And virtual should be in minority. Yet this is not good for the tools, since they earn less from advertising then. :-)

  25. Dusan says:

    Wow, for a start I must say I’m a bit surprised on “Skype is a little known”. Yet there must be difference between US and EU, since Skype is from Denmark. :-) What is more surprising, Skype has very nice features of telling what you’re up to at the moment. Therefore I just can’t understand all the fuzz about Twitter. :-)

    On the point, I think there’s just too much assuming on personal experiences. While for people on twitter or Facebook or any other social web technology this is a must-be, there’s still a whole world around that doesn’t care about using this “wonderful tools”. Yet they care about having a beer with people within 200 m from their home.

    There are actually many more groups of people that don’t care about virtual social networks. And while we might think the kids will be different, it might not turn out as true. Some of them will be inspired by this, yet they will fall in love one day and no virtual friend will be relevant for at least a month.

    Just this morning I was thinking of a tool like WhyGoSolo (thxs for this link Nicholas!). For me, the real social networking tools of tomorrow should bring together virtual and real meetings. And virtual should be in minority. Yet this is not good for the tools, since they earn less from advertising then. :-)

  26. Gavin Heaton says:

    In many ways, this really calls up the digital native/digital immigrant issue. Kids are now growing up never having known anything different — they have always been connected. While we can say “nothing beats face-to-face”, this is, in fact, a value judgement that places face-to-face communication ahead of digital connection. But the coming generations will see things differently. We may see that as “sad” or even as a “Paradise Lost” … but we also need to remember that the initial impulse to connect is human. Kids are just expressing this connectedness in a new way.

  27. Gavin Heaton says:

    In many ways, this really calls up the digital native/digital immigrant issue. Kids are now growing up never having known anything different — they have always been connected. While we can say “nothing beats face-to-face”, this is, in fact, a value judgement that places face-to-face communication ahead of digital connection. But the coming generations will see things differently. We may see that as “sad” or even as a “Paradise Lost” … but we also need to remember that the initial impulse to connect is human. Kids are just expressing this connectedness in a new way.

  28. Ann Handley says:

    “While we can say “nothing beats face-to-face”, this is, in fact, a value judgment that places face-to-face communication ahead of digital connection.” Love your perspective here, Gavin.

    Echoing others above, a friend is a friend is a friend…

  29. Ann Handley says:

    “While we can say “nothing beats face-to-face”, this is, in fact, a value judgment that places face-to-face communication ahead of digital connection.” Love your perspective here, Gavin.

    Echoing others above, a friend is a friend is a friend…

  30. Ann,
    Excellent post. (See my link for a similar topic one on how social networking can make us anti-social.)

    While these new social media tools definitely open up new worlds and relationships, they can and often do take time away from the face to face relationships. And, they can make it easier to “socialize” online, rather forcing us to get out and actually talk to people.

    Like everything, a balance is needed.

    I can see a time in the not-too-distant future where there will be a groundswell against social media — as part of the natural evolution of life — and people will, I hope, focus at least as much on their real life rather than their online life.
    –Mike

  31. Ann,
    Excellent post. (See my link for a similar topic one on how social networking can make us anti-social.)

    While these new social media tools definitely open up new worlds and relationships, they can and often do take time away from the face to face relationships. And, they can make it easier to “socialize” online, rather forcing us to get out and actually talk to people.

    Like everything, a balance is needed.

    I can see a time in the not-too-distant future where there will be a groundswell against social media — as part of the natural evolution of life — and people will, I hope, focus at least as much on their real life rather than their online life.
    –Mike

  32. AnnOhio says:

    I think the lines are blurring between the terms friend and online friends. To me, it’s just friends. Last week when I realized that in the past year I have met 20 Twitter pals face-to-face and spoken to another 18 Twitter people on the phone–on a regular basis I was stunned.

    I think that the online socnet tools have just opened a window to let more people into our lives. We determine how much we want to share, and how extensive we want to make those friendships. For me personally it’s encouraged me to reach out and make more and more face-to-face connections.

    :o )

  33. AnnOhio says:

    I think the lines are blurring between the terms friend and online friends. To me, it’s just friends. Last week when I realized that in the past year I have met 20 Twitter pals face-to-face and spoken to another 18 Twitter people on the phone–on a regular basis I was stunned.

    I think that the online socnet tools have just opened a window to let more people into our lives. We determine how much we want to share, and how extensive we want to make those friendships. For me personally it’s encouraged me to reach out and make more and more face-to-face connections.

    :o )

  34. The whole digital media connectivity thing is a fabulous tool for finding, introducing, building the initial bridges of friendship…and, as we’re seeing before our eyes month by month, for real honest to goodness collaboration. So, we’re richer in the sense that the pond we fish in is much broader, and we have great “fish finders” in our boats now! But we do have to recognize that human bonding is ultimately more than exchanging words and thoughts. There is a depth of community that is achieved with eye contact, hugs, physical presence, and the mysterious shared sympathy that comes from physically sharing time and space with people. Otherwise, why would we be so looking forward to the Blogger Social!

  35. The whole digital media connectivity thing is a fabulous tool for finding, introducing, building the initial bridges of friendship…and, as we’re seeing before our eyes month by month, for real honest to goodness collaboration. So, we’re richer in the sense that the pond we fish in is much broader, and we have great “fish finders” in our boats now! But we do have to recognize that human bonding is ultimately more than exchanging words and thoughts. There is a depth of community that is achieved with eye contact, hugs, physical presence, and the mysterious shared sympathy that comes from physically sharing time and space with people. Otherwise, why would we be so looking forward to the Blogger Social!

  36. Toad says:

    In our desire to make our own web experiences universal, I think we’re all forgetting something very, very important: this is the experience of one girl — not an entire generation.

    Knowing (and being the father of) boys that age, I can’t see most of them having a similar experience. They’re just not into that kind of talk-based interaction. Play is tossing a ball back and forth. Or a Wii controller.

    Don’t discount the fact that Kinsey and Caroline have clearly hit it off, the same way adults do in real life. And that could happen over the phone as easily as over Skype. Skype just makes it easier. And it’s one Skype friend. Not an entire community that’s supplanted her offline social life. So I’d vote for “cool” in this instance.

    What a lot of this new technology has done is allow us to find other people with similar interests and bond with them. Twitter is a perfect example of how this can work. But again, let’s not forget that pre-digital, there was the co-worker in Dallas you spoke to on the phone every day and felt like you knew forever before you actually met them in person.

    Both cases raise the “when does a work friend become a friend-friend?” issue, which is something I suspect we need to deal with on a case-by-case basis.

    Good to discuss this stuff though. With my virtual friends ;)

  37. Toad says:

    In our desire to make our own web experiences universal, I think we’re all forgetting something very, very important: this is the experience of one girl — not an entire generation.

    Knowing (and being the father of) boys that age, I can’t see most of them having a similar experience. They’re just not into that kind of talk-based interaction. Play is tossing a ball back and forth. Or a Wii controller.

    Don’t discount the fact that Kinsey and Caroline have clearly hit it off, the same way adults do in real life. And that could happen over the phone as easily as over Skype. Skype just makes it easier. And it’s one Skype friend. Not an entire community that’s supplanted her offline social life. So I’d vote for “cool” in this instance.

    What a lot of this new technology has done is allow us to find other people with similar interests and bond with them. Twitter is a perfect example of how this can work. But again, let’s not forget that pre-digital, there was the co-worker in Dallas you spoke to on the phone every day and felt like you knew forever before you actually met them in person.

    Both cases raise the “when does a work friend become a friend-friend?” issue, which is something I suspect we need to deal with on a case-by-case basis.

    Good to discuss this stuff though. With my virtual friends ;)

  38. Karen Swim says:

    Ann, your story moved me on so many levels! Your daughter is truly a power woman of the future. In answer to your question, my world is richer because of my virtual friends. When my husband died, I was equally supported by friends, church members and an online prayer group. My virtual friends were there for me as much as my “live” friends. I have formed deep and lasting relationships with people across the globe because of the internet. On a day to day basis the diverse, global interaction broadens and enriches my own perspective. I have found that my virtual friends are not a replacement for real interaction but a welcomed addition. And like your daughter, in my book a friend is a friend no matter how or where you stay connected.

    Karen

  39. Karen Swim says:

    Ann, your story moved me on so many levels! Your daughter is truly a power woman of the future. In answer to your question, my world is richer because of my virtual friends. When my husband died, I was equally supported by friends, church members and an online prayer group. My virtual friends were there for me as much as my “live” friends. I have formed deep and lasting relationships with people across the globe because of the internet. On a day to day basis the diverse, global interaction broadens and enriches my own perspective. I have found that my virtual friends are not a replacement for real interaction but a welcomed addition. And like your daughter, in my book a friend is a friend no matter how or where you stay connected.

    Karen

  40. SisterSledge says:

    Richer, maybe.

    Times have changed…our families are spread across the country and friends have less time to get together in person. We no longer all watch the same TV shows or listen to the same music…our old connections are more fragmented…some long distance relationships can be enhanced by online contact but some can’t. Through online interaction, our world has grown bigger and our interests have expanded to embrace it. We connect with people we’d not have met otherwise and we form bonds across more diverse cultures.

    So, we’ve lost and we’ve gained…it’s different, yes…is it better? Sometimes.

  41. SisterSledge says:

    Richer, maybe.

    Times have changed…our families are spread across the country and friends have less time to get together in person. We no longer all watch the same TV shows or listen to the same music…our old connections are more fragmented…some long distance relationships can be enhanced by online contact but some can’t. Through online interaction, our world has grown bigger and our interests have expanded to embrace it. We connect with people we’d not have met otherwise and we form bonds across more diverse cultures.

    So, we’ve lost and we’ve gained…it’s different, yes…is it better? Sometimes.

  42. Cam Beck says:

    There is something to be said for intimate personal interaction that social media have not yet found a way to duplicate.

    For all its charms, Skype cannot duplicate a handshake or a hug. I don’t see the hierarchy of needs being changed so much by the new tools that we will discard our taste for them entirely.

    The good news is that we don’t need to.

    Case in poing: My family is spread out across the U.S., and my friends are in just about every continent. It’s otherwise impossible to meaningfully stay in touch but through these tools.

    Social media give us opportunities to open doors, interact, and stay in touch like we’ve never had before. Provided we understand our boundaries, technology that helps keep us connected can enrich our lives considerably.

  43. Cam Beck says:

    There is something to be said for intimate personal interaction that social media have not yet found a way to duplicate.

    For all its charms, Skype cannot duplicate a handshake or a hug. I don’t see the hierarchy of needs being changed so much by the new tools that we will discard our taste for them entirely.

    The good news is that we don’t need to.

    Case in poing: My family is spread out across the U.S., and my friends are in just about every continent. It’s otherwise impossible to meaningfully stay in touch but through these tools.

    Social media give us opportunities to open doors, interact, and stay in touch like we’ve never had before. Provided we understand our boundaries, technology that helps keep us connected can enrich our lives considerably.

  44. Social ties are simply shifting and reweaving themselves into an even richer fabric than ever before. It doesn’t replace the face2face, but it certainly extends it, strengthens it and makes it that much more productive. Ann, I love what your and Shelley’s daughters are experiencing!

  45. Social ties are simply shifting and reweaving themselves into an even richer fabric than ever before. It doesn’t replace the face2face, but it certainly extends it, strengthens it and makes it that much more productive. Ann, I love what your and Shelley’s daughters are experiencing!

  46. I agree, CB. As these social networks become better entwined with our lives (that is, not just accessbile via a browser) and our lives in them, I think they will enhance our real-world relationships and social interactions. I don’t think it’s an either/or proposition at all.

    Either way, get used to it: 88% of Canadian teens have have participated in an online social activity.

  47. I agree, CB. As these social networks become better entwined with our lives (that is, not just accessbile via a browser) and our lives in them, I think they will enhance our real-world relationships and social interactions. I don’t think it’s an either/or proposition at all.

    Either way, get used to it: 88% of Canadian teens have have participated in an online social activity.

  48. A part of me worries that your daughter thinks talking on Skype is “playing.” I have fond memories of my childhood, running about the neighborhood unencumbered by worried parents thinking I might be snatched or abused or some terrible thing. I remember long days playing hopskotch and jump rope and sweating under an August sun… totally immersed in play… real play.

    And, another part of me loves playing online, using Skype and Twitter and Facebook and blogs. I have a 10 year old granddaughter who is into Webkins…but I don’t think she’s ever talked on Skype.

    Is this better than what came before – or is it just different, and… can we appreciate it for its ability to build relationships and friendships just as strong as any penpal relationship from those ancient Dick and Jane days?

    It’s easy to see how this is play…the way spending hours on the phone with your best friend was play, in the day.

    Different is sometimes just that – different. Not better, not worse. Just different.

  49. A part of me worries that your daughter thinks talking on Skype is “playing.” I have fond memories of my childhood, running about the neighborhood unencumbered by worried parents thinking I might be snatched or abused or some terrible thing. I remember long days playing hopskotch and jump rope and sweating under an August sun… totally immersed in play… real play.

    And, another part of me loves playing online, using Skype and Twitter and Facebook and blogs. I have a 10 year old granddaughter who is into Webkins…but I don’t think she’s ever talked on Skype.

    Is this better than what came before – or is it just different, and… can we appreciate it for its ability to build relationships and friendships just as strong as any penpal relationship from those ancient Dick and Jane days?

    It’s easy to see how this is play…the way spending hours on the phone with your best friend was play, in the day.

    Different is sometimes just that – different. Not better, not worse. Just different.

  50. Shelley says:

    Funny addition to Ann’s story…

    Kinsey and Caroline planned to reconnect on Skype this afternoon. When Kinsey’s dad came to pick her up, she got a little distraught about not being here for her “appointment” with Caroline. I had to reassure her that she could log into Skype from her dad’s house, too.

    I can honestly say that my life is richer with my own virtual friendships. If I hadn’t spent so much time participating in the MarketingProfs online forum, the Know-How Exchange, I never would have “met” people like Ann and eventually become her friend as well as a colleague.

    Also, now that I work from home for a virtual company, I have less time to bump into people face-to-face. If it weren’t for technology, I’d feel like a hermit around here!

  51. Shelley says:

    Funny addition to Ann’s story…

    Kinsey and Caroline planned to reconnect on Skype this afternoon. When Kinsey’s dad came to pick her up, she got a little distraught about not being here for her “appointment” with Caroline. I had to reassure her that she could log into Skype from her dad’s house, too.

    I can honestly say that my life is richer with my own virtual friendships. If I hadn’t spent so much time participating in the MarketingProfs online forum, the Know-How Exchange, I never would have “met” people like Ann and eventually become her friend as well as a colleague.

    Also, now that I work from home for a virtual company, I have less time to bump into people face-to-face. If it weren’t for technology, I’d feel like a hermit around here!

  52. Ann Handley says:

    Digging all the conversation here, guys… thanks for chiming in. I think what’s interesting is the technology aspect, which makes communication so accessible and immediate for those who are naturally connective… (not like Toad’s boys, though). It’s not an either-or thing… but it’s definitely an expansion of how (and how deeply?) we connect.

  53. Ann Handley says:

    Digging all the conversation here, guys… thanks for chiming in. I think what’s interesting is the technology aspect, which makes communication so accessible and immediate for those who are naturally connective… (not like Toad’s boys, though). It’s not an either-or thing… but it’s definitely an expansion of how (and how deeply?) we connect.

  54. I agree that a friend is a friend is a friend. But. It’s a little different if you’ve never met your online friend in person. There’s something about a face-to-face meeting (if only one) that adds a critical dimension to my understanding of a friend. I don’t feel like I have the whole picture until I get some offline interaction.

  55. I agree that a friend is a friend is a friend. But. It’s a little different if you’ve never met your online friend in person. There’s something about a face-to-face meeting (if only one) that adds a critical dimension to my understanding of a friend. I don’t feel like I have the whole picture until I get some offline interaction.

  56. Maura Welch says:

    Ann – great post. I think it’s fantastic that you’re allowing your child to connect with friends on the internet safely, by participating with her and understanding the new medium. Most parents don’t take the time to understand what’s going on. Since it’s unknown and “not like when I was a kid,” they label it as abnormal… dangerous…”Here there be dragons…”

    I love that you love Henry Jenkins too – and at SXSW he spoke of the trend thats happening called “The Dumbest Generation.” That adults not clear on what’s happening on social networks, are in a “moral panic.” That’s when you stop asking questions and assume you already know the answers.

    Jenkins encourages us to have different starting point. Namely to start with the premise that people (and kids) aren’t idiots.

    Your daughter knows that Kinsey is a friend and that they’re playing together. It is real to her because, well, they are playing together. And they are friends.

    When they meet in person they will already have established the foundation of that friendship. It’s cool that they will meet – because that to me is when online relationships become much more solidified and important. In-person matters a lot…and it makes the relationship far more lasting. But online is also a relationship.

    That’s what I love about working with Weeworld – it’s a giant social anthropology experiment. It’s a lot like the real world, but since it’s online it’s an accelerated social petri dish. These things are not going away. We all need to figure them out – kids and parents.

    Have fun in California with the girls!

  57. Maura Welch says:

    Ann – great post. I think it’s fantastic that you’re allowing your child to connect with friends on the internet safely, by participating with her and understanding the new medium. Most parents don’t take the time to understand what’s going on. Since it’s unknown and “not like when I was a kid,” they label it as abnormal… dangerous…”Here there be dragons…”

    I love that you love Henry Jenkins too – and at SXSW he spoke of the trend thats happening called “The Dumbest Generation.” That adults not clear on what’s happening on social networks, are in a “moral panic.” That’s when you stop asking questions and assume you already know the answers.

    Jenkins encourages us to have different starting point. Namely to start with the premise that people (and kids) aren’t idiots.

    Your daughter knows that Kinsey is a friend and that they’re playing together. It is real to her because, well, they are playing together. And they are friends.

    When they meet in person they will already have established the foundation of that friendship. It’s cool that they will meet – because that to me is when online relationships become much more solidified and important. In-person matters a lot…and it makes the relationship far more lasting. But online is also a relationship.

    That’s what I love about working with Weeworld – it’s a giant social anthropology experiment. It’s a lot like the real world, but since it’s online it’s an accelerated social petri dish. These things are not going away. We all need to figure them out – kids and parents.

    Have fun in California with the girls!

  58. Ann, I passed the URL for this post on to a relative of mine who is a Baby Boomer grandma. She recently mentioned that although she uses a PC for some simple tasks, the whole world of social media feels foreign to her. I know she is smart and enjoys keeping informed through print media. I think you have provided a good overview for when her grandkids start talking to her about their on-line friends.

    As for myself, my life is most definitely enriched by my on-line friends.

  59. Ann, I passed the URL for this post on to a relative of mine who is a Baby Boomer grandma. She recently mentioned that although she uses a PC for some simple tasks, the whole world of social media feels foreign to her. I know she is smart and enjoys keeping informed through print media. I think you have provided a good overview for when her grandkids start talking to her about their on-line friends.

    As for myself, my life is most definitely enriched by my on-line friends.

  60. Shelley says:

    Ann, I can’t wait to see your follow-up post on what happens when our girls meet “for real” in two weeks.

    One thing that struck me when Caroline and Kinsey were skyping today is that they were indeed playing together, but not actually communicating the whole time. After a few minutes of silence, I would overhear Kinsey asking Caroline, “Are you there?” And then they would talk about what they were doing online on different girl-game websites.

    What was also funny was Kinsey’s observation about the skype chat history showing how often the girls tried to communicate with each other when one wasn’t available. “Look, mom! Caroline tried to skype me six times yesterday while I was still asleep!” This changes the rules of Phone Tag, I’m guessing…

  61. Shelley says:

    Ann, I can’t wait to see your follow-up post on what happens when our girls meet “for real” in two weeks.

    One thing that struck me when Caroline and Kinsey were skyping today is that they were indeed playing together, but not actually communicating the whole time. After a few minutes of silence, I would overhear Kinsey asking Caroline, “Are you there?” And then they would talk about what they were doing online on different girl-game websites.

    What was also funny was Kinsey’s observation about the skype chat history showing how often the girls tried to communicate with each other when one wasn’t available. “Look, mom! Caroline tried to skype me six times yesterday while I was still asleep!” This changes the rules of Phone Tag, I’m guessing…

  62. Ann Handley says:

    True, Shelley, on both counts. I, too, observed the moments of silence when they were playing together, but in parallel play more than social play. Then again, when Caroline’s local friends come over, they sometimes interact loudly, and sometimes don’t. (And when they are on the computer together, well… it’s pretty much like it is with Kinsey!)

    It will be interesting to see how they relate in another two weeks, for sure. Definitely a big part of their relationship at this point is anticipating that.

  63. Ann Handley says:

    True, Shelley, on both counts. I, too, observed the moments of silence when they were playing together, but in parallel play more than social play. Then again, when Caroline’s local friends come over, they sometimes interact loudly, and sometimes don’t. (And when they are on the computer together, well… it’s pretty much like it is with Kinsey!)

    It will be interesting to see how they relate in another two weeks, for sure. Definitely a big part of their relationship at this point is anticipating that.

  64. grace says:

    i have been reading your blog for some time with great interest and respect. you are a very good writer with a definite voice and a very pithy wit. however, here, i think, we diverge in common ground and i find myself feeling a bit nervous about sharing my thoughts…this crowd is THE internet crowd after all. it doesn’t take long to get the whole queen bee thing and the inside comments passed around. some times it can feel like the in kids vs. the outsider. :-) but i have a good, healthy dose of self confidence, so here goes nothing…

    while i understand and respect what the internet has given us, it saddens me as well. i find so much is lost on this generation.

    first it was the tv shows to entertain them when they were bored. then it was the internet and the hours you find yourself lost in going from site to site when all you really needed was some info about china. then came email…hours spent obsessively checking, responding and checking and so on. IM entered and well you could have absolute immediate access to your buds and so that became the new obsession. not long after came the social networks, such as myspace and facebook, and now we have walls to write on, messages to check, groups to join, gifts to send, polls to take and share, and friends to accumulate, some of whom you actually do not know from adam.

    i know i sound like i have been asleep for 25 years, and i fully expect to be crucified, but no one writes hand written thank you notes or letters anymore; children spend hours on the internet instead of playing board games and learning to negotiate face-to-face, etc. if they are bored they need to BE entertained so they go to the computer or start texting.

    it seems no one knows how to be quiet or play outside or read or just be alone any more. instant and immediate access and gratification.

    i have every letter my father wrote to me from the time i first went away to camp until the last simple post card he could manage to compose before he died. i also have letters from other family members, godparents, and friends…i can hold these in my hand, re-read them any time i want or need to, and laugh or cry as i recall that time and that relationship. i even have some letters my grandparents wrote to each other back in the 20′s when they were young parents and starting out is the world.

    emails, im, and social networking sites cannot give you that. nor can they give you a peek into the lives of those who came before you. everything is so easily erased…gone and forgotten. ihave saved the letters my children’s father wrote to me during our “courtship” and marriage. they are for our children, so they may have a peek into who we were as we got to know each other and how we grew and changed over the years of working and raising a family.

    i know you and most of your readers are big internet folk and probably find me rather so yesterday…yet i am a lot like you: in my mid 40′s, college educated, raising children and working. i read a lot, travel, visit museums and attend concerts. i spend time with my family talking, helping out and just being.

    i have a love/hate relationship with the internet and modern technology. i work to keep it from taking my children away from the family – have you read the shelter of each other…rebuilding our families? – yet i gave my two oldest each a laptop when they entered high school. my youngest, 5th grade, has just rec’d an email address. she has webkins and access to other tween sites. the older two have cell phones, but not texting, and the youngest will get one in middle school.

    of course the internet has brought me many good things…access to you and other very talented writers – the whole blog thing…which at first i found silly and rather self involved, but now i’m hooked! the internet provides us with very quick access to important info…fast plane tix and hotel reservations, easy way to check in with my sister when she is overseas and her cell phone is not working. the list goes on…on both sides of the coin.

    it is a blessing and a curse in my mind and i really struggle with it. i have lived for summer each year since my eldest graduated fifth grade and went off to camp…not to get rid of her, but to savor that time when we write each other letters , and so it has been every summer since when one after the other has had their time at camp. my children wrote/write weekly and i near daily to keep in touch, let them know what everyone else is up to, and also so they get letter each day at mail call. then when it is over, i have those tangible reminders to pull out every so often and touch and remember. who knows, maybe they keep them as well and in time will experience what i have through the years.

  65. grace says:

    i have been reading your blog for some time with great interest and respect. you are a very good writer with a definite voice and a very pithy wit. however, here, i think, we diverge in common ground and i find myself feeling a bit nervous about sharing my thoughts…this crowd is THE internet crowd after all. it doesn’t take long to get the whole queen bee thing and the inside comments passed around. some times it can feel like the in kids vs. the outsider. :-) but i have a good, healthy dose of self confidence, so here goes nothing…

    while i understand and respect what the internet has given us, it saddens me as well. i find so much is lost on this generation.

    first it was the tv shows to entertain them when they were bored. then it was the internet and the hours you find yourself lost in going from site to site when all you really needed was some info about china. then came email…hours spent obsessively checking, responding and checking and so on. IM entered and well you could have absolute immediate access to your buds and so that became the new obsession. not long after came the social networks, such as myspace and facebook, and now we have walls to write on, messages to check, groups to join, gifts to send, polls to take and share, and friends to accumulate, some of whom you actually do not know from adam.

    i know i sound like i have been asleep for 25 years, and i fully expect to be crucified, but no one writes hand written thank you notes or letters anymore; children spend hours on the internet instead of playing board games and learning to negotiate face-to-face, etc. if they are bored they need to BE entertained so they go to the computer or start texting.

    it seems no one knows how to be quiet or play outside or read or just be alone any more. instant and immediate access and gratification.

    i have every letter my father wrote to me from the time i first went away to camp until the last simple post card he could manage to compose before he died. i also have letters from other family members, godparents, and friends…i can hold these in my hand, re-read them any time i want or need to, and laugh or cry as i recall that time and that relationship. i even have some letters my grandparents wrote to each other back in the 20′s when they were young parents and starting out is the world.

    emails, im, and social networking sites cannot give you that. nor can they give you a peek into the lives of those who came before you. everything is so easily erased…gone and forgotten. ihave saved the letters my children’s father wrote to me during our “courtship” and marriage. they are for our children, so they may have a peek into who we were as we got to know each other and how we grew and changed over the years of working and raising a family.

    i know you and most of your readers are big internet folk and probably find me rather so yesterday…yet i am a lot like you: in my mid 40′s, college educated, raising children and working. i read a lot, travel, visit museums and attend concerts. i spend time with my family talking, helping out and just being.

    i have a love/hate relationship with the internet and modern technology. i work to keep it from taking my children away from the family – have you read the shelter of each other…rebuilding our families? – yet i gave my two oldest each a laptop when they entered high school. my youngest, 5th grade, has just rec’d an email address. she has webkins and access to other tween sites. the older two have cell phones, but not texting, and the youngest will get one in middle school.

    of course the internet has brought me many good things…access to you and other very talented writers – the whole blog thing…which at first i found silly and rather self involved, but now i’m hooked! the internet provides us with very quick access to important info…fast plane tix and hotel reservations, easy way to check in with my sister when she is overseas and her cell phone is not working. the list goes on…on both sides of the coin.

    it is a blessing and a curse in my mind and i really struggle with it. i have lived for summer each year since my eldest graduated fifth grade and went off to camp…not to get rid of her, but to savor that time when we write each other letters , and so it has been every summer since when one after the other has had their time at camp. my children wrote/write weekly and i near daily to keep in touch, let them know what everyone else is up to, and also so they get letter each day at mail call. then when it is over, i have those tangible reminders to pull out every so often and touch and remember. who knows, maybe they keep them as well and in time will experience what i have through the years.

  66. Pingback: MarketingProfs in Santa Barbara: Show Notes, ‘Ann-otated’

  67. daniel says:

    You forgot something: little girls as yours don’t lie on social networking, or at least no more that they would do in real life, because of course they still not distinguish the difference. It’s simpler to make friends when you’re almost sure there is no mask beyond you and you’re virtual acquaintance. But as we grown, we become more subtle and difficult to read, and we understand internet would help up should we wish to conceal some part of our character. That’s why social networking might be enough good for little girls, but isn’t for complex grown up personalities, who still need to see the other person in the face and watch his body language closely to tell if one is telling the truth and is worth being friend with.
    That’s my point of view and that’s why I don’t think social networking could possibly replace real relationships.

  68. daniel says:

    You forgot something: little girls as yours don’t lie on social networking, or at least no more that they would do in real life, because of course they still not distinguish the difference. It’s simpler to make friends when you’re almost sure there is no mask beyond you and you’re virtual acquaintance. But as we grown, we become more subtle and difficult to read, and we understand internet would help up should we wish to conceal some part of our character. That’s why social networking might be enough good for little girls, but isn’t for complex grown up personalities, who still need to see the other person in the face and watch his body language closely to tell if one is telling the truth and is worth being friend with.
    That’s my point of view and that’s why I don’t think social networking could possibly replace real relationships.

  69. Carmen Vj says:

    We all better get used to it. Social Networking is the future for all of our kids and this is where they will meet alot of friends. And the safety of these social networking is what we have to watch. Myself and my girls love webkinz world. This is where we usually are. And as a Mom, I am there with them.

  70. Carmen Vj says:

    We all better get used to it. Social Networking is the future for all of our kids and this is where they will meet alot of friends. And the safety of these social networking is what we have to watch. Myself and my girls love webkinz world. This is where we usually are. And as a Mom, I am there with them.

  71. Pingback: This Mommy Gig » Blog Archive » Is It Okay for an 11-Year-Old to Be on Facebook?

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