My wife and I attended a wedding reception last Friday evening, for a lovely young couple.That in itself isn’t particularly unusual. Although I didn’t know either the bride or groom, my wife has been friends with the bride for about a year. Again, nothing unusual there. But what was a new experience for me is that the wedding reception was the first time that my wife and the bride actually met!
Let’s backup about a year. My wife participates in weight watchers and on achieving a particular goal she had posted a tweet. Another weight watcher participant messaged her a congratulatory tweet and they started to talk. Roll on 12 months and they are like best friends, talking daily and making another friend on the way as well. So we arrived at the wedding reception, having never met either the bride or the other twitter friend before. But the moment they met it was like they had known each other their whole lives, hugging and chatting away as only women can.
For me, working in digital and being fascinated with ‘network’ media (social media), this was a significant moment. I was experiencing the result of the world taking another step forward and become that little bit smaller. The power of sites like Facebook and Twitter to bring people together is quite amazing and these three women, meeting in person for the first time but acting like the oldest of friends, are proof that the rules of engagement have evolved. We know longer need to meet someone physically in order to start developing a friendship.
Of course, this trend is something which isn’t particularly new. My own marriage is evidence to the power of the internet to bring people together. I met my wife on an internet dating site. We got to know each other via instant messaging, text messages, emails and phone calls before finally meeting. The rest is history. And there are countless others like us who have done the same. The internet brought us together. But the key difference between then and now is that with internet dating the online piece is a lead up to the meeting but the actual relationship really starts when you meet the person. Now, with social media sites, the actual meeting doesn’t need to take place for the actual relationship to begin. In fact, the bride even said that she felt she knew these two twitter friends better than many of the other guests, which is testament to the ability of social media to not just maintain friendships but to create them as well.
For my part, I haven’t yet met anyone through these networking sites, but I do use them to maintain friendships that would otherwise have drifted away. It allows me to keep in touch with my cousin in the USA and watch her daughter grow, even though I haven’t actually seen them in 6 years. Because we can trade pictures, talk instantly and conveniently it allows us to have relationships that are the next best thing to being in the same place. In fact, in some ways it allows an even better relationship because it doesn’t require us to be in one place at a set time. In a word, it is a relationship that is more convenient.
Of course there is another side to this new world as well. The media have widely publicized the use of these sites to arrange flash mob appearances, or on the darker side, to arrange riots and gang fights. Again, this isn’t new, before Facebook and Twitter these were done via SMS. But again the social sites allow more convenient avenues to arrange these sorts of things. It brings strangers together and allows them to interact, whether their intentions are good or bad. This is the same thing that allows people the anonymity of not being face to face to be insulting or ‘troll’ others as well.
Undoubtedly the world is changing. My experience last week showed that people can become the best of friends without the need to meet each other and by and large that is a great thing. It allows people with similar interests and outlooks to meet when they would previously not have. It allows people to stay in touch and preserve relationships that would otherwise fade away, to be replaced by awkward reunions filled with small talk on the odd occasions they would actually meet. The most fascinating thing for me though is that it also closes the generation gap. The age difference between my wife, the bride and the other twitter friend is quite significant and yet you wouldn’t know it when they met. They were instantly so alike when they were together and getting on like a house on fire. Social media sites allow people to have these relationships when in the past it would probably have been harder for people from different generations to interact and relate.
The world has changed, it has evolved and online friendships are a result of this. Friendships created and maintained online are already happening and people from different walks of life are being brought together. I’m sure that there will be people soon who have best friends they have never met and possibly never will meet. The cloud does not just apply to pieces of hardware and software, clearly it applies to us and our friendships as well.