Too much or not enough?
March 8, 2010
by Ivan Raconteur

My family has never been what anyone would describe as a tight-knit group, and this has become even more apparent in the age of social networking.

The subject came up recently when my sister told me about a conversation she had with an acquaintance.

I share these observations not to be critical of anyone involved, but to illustrate the contrast in our communication as we clumsily navigate our way through the digital age.

During the above-mentioned conversation, my sister commented to this acquaintance that, in her opinion, one measure of a good friend was that the person would attend one’s parent’s funeral.

As it turned out, my sister learned later that week that she had not attended the funeral of her own sister-in-law. In fact, she hadn’t even been aware of it.

The funeral in question took place in another state, and it is unlikely that she would have been able to attend even if she had know about it, but the point is, she didn’t know about it so she couldn’t even send a card.

My purpose here is to illustrate that some of us are often unaware of significant events in the lives of our family members.

In contrast to this, we are kept abreast of even the most mundane details in the lives of our “friends” via the magic of social networks.

We are informed when our friends are tired, bored, or happy.

We know when they are sick and how they entertain themselves.

We are apprised of their opinions concerning the Olympics, and the contestants on American Idol.

I can tell you what my friend in Seattle prepared for dinner last night, or what my former assistant in the Twin Cities watched on television, but I couldn’t say with any certainty whether my two brothers in Duluth are still among the living.

This family really isn’t very good at keeping in touch.

In the digital world, we also learn what is important in the lives of our friends.

I could plot on a chart the development of the one-year-old daughter of my cousin in San Francisco, even though I have never met the child.

Some people have become bored with the level of detail social networks provide, as evidenced by the group “I don’t care about your farm, or your fish, or your park, or your mafia,” which was formed in response to constant updates about these cyber-hobbies.

That one made me laugh.

In a strange way, though, I have come to look forward to the updates from my friends both nearby and across the country.

I often check in late in the day when things finally settle down, and I actually enjoy seeing what people are up to.

Social networks provide a convenient way to keep in touch with friends, even those we don’t often see.

We get to hear about new jobs, academic accomplishments, and other activities that we might miss out on without social networks.

We can live vicariously by checking out our friends’ photo albums and seeing the places they have been.

As one who appreciates the beautiful subtlety of our language, I have been delighted to discover the keen sense of humor so many of my friends have.

They reveal their daily activities and their philosophy of life through witty and entertaining posts.

We can share their triumphs and their little frustrations, as illustrated by the case of a recent post by a friend who was upset with the customer service department of a major retailer.

Apparently, the representative insisted on hanging up a certain undergarment that my friend was returning on a hook near the main entrance of the store like a flag for everyone to see.

I gathered from her comments that she found this somewhat embarrassing.

This is just one example of the little things that allow us to share the sorrows and the joys of life in a convenient way that brings us closer together.

Sharing the good times makes them all the sweeter, and sharing our frustrations can make them more bearable (since misery still loves company).

It also allows us to stay in touch with friends, new and old, even when we don’t get around to calling them as often as we should.

A quick comment on a friend’s Facebook status, or a post on her wall is all it takes to let her know we are thinking about her, and sometimes that is enough.

It also shows that no matter how much technology we have at our disposal, including cell phones, text messages, e-mail, web sites, and social networking, none of this will improve communication unless we actually choose to use it.

That is why we may know more about what is going on in the lives of our friends on the other side of the continent than we do about family members in our own state (or even in our own city).

One thing is clear, no one can claim that they don’t keep in touch because they don’t have time.

In just a few seconds we can let everyone know what is on our mind, whether or not they care. It is up to the recipients to decide whether it is too much information or not enough. What they do with the information is up to them.