Online and Offline Relationships

Maybe the blogosphere has spring fever and has the attention of a high school senior anticipating graduation because it seems that recently a lot of bloggers have noticed fewer comments and less interaction and have posted about it: here, here, here, and here (oh lookee there.  I just used the Oxford comma after I told Katie I didn’t any longer).  All the posts are interesting, so I urge you to read them.  The speculation ranges from whether there is a blog/social media malaise to whether blogging is dying and ultimately ponders why we blog.

I was interested in this cross-blog conversation because it reminded me of the accusations that flew during the PAIL brouhaha in the ALI community that some bloggers were blogging for the wrong reasons and interested in the quantity of their readers and comments instead of the quality of their writing or their interactions.  Months later, that sanctimonious, distorted interpretation of the PAIL situation is the one that still stings me.  Based on the comments in the above blogs, it appears that discussing stats and comment numbers – even innocently  – is taboo because many commenters expressed that they blog for themselves, stats be damned.

So I mention this conversation to collect a little data of my own:

In your neck of the woods, have you noticed decreased action in the blogosphere or in your other social media channels?  A feeling of ennui?

Some commenters attributed any drop-off in interaction to the season, and I think there is a little truth to that.  The days are longer and nicer; there are more opportunities to spend time outside.  I know I personally have been consumed with preparing for Daniel’s transition to daycare: analyzing his wardrobe, researching food ideas, agonizing over how to prepare him.  I’m also busy at work and prepping presentations for the two conferences I’m attending this month and attending more meetings than anyone would ever want to attend.

At the same time, I have so much I want to post that I almost feel paralyzed when I think about trying to organize my thoughts and spew something coherent.  I don’t aim for profundity, only coherence.  So often, an extra day will slip between the interval I had planned because the thought of sitting at my laptop exhausts me.  It’s almost as if I have too much to say, so I don’t say anything.  And then when that extra day slips in, I shrug and doubt anyone will notice anyway (and no, that’s not a cry for validation).  And that shrug puts everything into perspective about what I’m doing in this space and what it means in the larger scheme.   But I also hate that shrug because I’m one of those people who needs to purge her mind because otherwise it builds up on top of what thought came before and I can’t move on and it threatens to drown me.

I actually started this post on Friday, and I tried to move on when I didn’t have a chance to finish it, but I keep coming back to what I wanted to say here.

As I was thinking about blogging and social media and our online relationships, I read “In the Era of Online Networking, Offline Connections are More Powerful Than Ever.”  Nutter’s point is that while we are enraptured with connecting via social media, the relationships we make offline – that take time to nurture and grow – are the ones that matter and are even more important now.  That makes sense to me.  After all, in my friend project, I’ve made friends via Twitter and blogs, but when I want to build those relationships, I take them offline.  I have actual lunch or dinner with these ladies.  We meet face to face.  Hell, even exchanging email seems more personal these days.  And it’s been true for years.  The same thing happened in the message board I was a part of: local ladies met and connected online via journals but took it offline with dinners, wedding attendance, baby showers and cookie exchanges (shout out to Fight Club!).   There’s an element of condescension in Nutter’s piece (“oh these kids today and their new toys”) but hardly anything revolutionary.

About 5 minutes after I finished reading Nutter’s piece, I came across Zeynep Tufekci’s piece Social Media’s Small, Positive Role in Human Relationships in the Atlantic.  [Side note: I just realized two seconds ago that she is a professor in former graduate program.  I think she came to UNC while I was on maternity leave or working on my Master's Paper.  In other words, I am a moron for not realizing that earlier.]  Tufekcki argues that social media is in fact enabling more conversations between people and even deepening ties offline, something I found in my own research. I love that she has found that these online conversations save offline social lives and that online tools enable us to find kindred spirits by geography and interests in ways not available to us before.  I appreciate that Tufekci stands up for social media and the relationships we can build there. She says:

If anything, social media is a counterweight to the ongoing devaluation of human lives. Social media’s rapid rise is a loud, desperate, emerging attempt by people everywhere to connect with *each other* in the face of all the obstacles that modernity imposes on our lives: suburbanization that isolates us from each other, long working-hours and commutes that are required to make ends meet, the global migration that scatters families across the globe, the military-industrial-consumption machine that drives so many key decisions, and, last but not least, the television — the ultimate alienation machine — which remains the dominant form of media.

I certainly agree.  In addition to being able to connect to long-lost real-life friends, Twitter and the blogosphere has enabled me to connect with others suffering from infertility, coworkers, local bloggers, tech/social media thought leaders, bibliophiles and just overall cool people.  When I have insomnia, there is a conversation going in in which I can participate.  When bad weather threatens, I hear about it online before my weather radio squawks.  I am never alone and for someone who has felt alone most of her life, that feeling is priceless.

And it is powerful.  Check out her story.  Last Friday I reeled when I saw Diana’s tweet about her twin boys, and I was riveted by her story.  By riveted I don’t mean as if I were watching an accident or soap opera.  I was riveted because her story was happening to a real woman and as a mother and woman, I felt so sad and scared for her.  I don’t know Diana.  She is sort of a friend of several friends or acquaintances I know via Twitter and their blogs, but I’ve never interacted with her.  Yet I couldn’t stop thinking about her all weekend.  I was worrying for her and aching over what seemed to be the inevitable outcome.  Then on Monday she tweeted a few tweets about how badly a few doctors were treating her in the hospital and her decision not to induce her twins, and her situation went viral.  Calls and emails poured into the hospital and suddenly, Diana started to receive appropriate care. [Update: She tweeted that her boys were born this morning.  My thoughts are with her, and I hope the outpouring of love and grief she receives can somehow make her pain a little easier to bear.]

This post is not about women’s rights or whether Diana should or should not prolong what may be inevitable.  It is about the fact that online behavior and relationships can have positive offline benefits.  These relationships can be as real as those in the offline world.  They should not be minimized as Nutter attempted to do.  Those of us who spend time online should not be ashamed; we are cultivating real relationships.

These reasons are why if  there is a malaise or ennui with blogging or social media, we should resist it and press on.  We can build real relationships there, and we can impact real lives.

How do you feel about the relationships you have cultivated online?  Are they as real and strong as  your offline ones?

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6 thoughts on “Online and Offline Relationships

  1. This is a really fascinating post, as were the ones you linked to. Thanks for sharing those. I would say that I have noticed a drop in participation, as it were, but I have done so myself and kind of assumed others were reacting to my absence. I’ve found it hard to carve time (or inspiration) to post and comment and I have felt a general malaise toward blogging, of course I’ve felt it toward pretty much every part of my life (as my post tomorrow will explore). Of course I have never gotten a ton of comments on my posts so I’m used to that.

    As for the online/offline question, I would say that my online friends are many times better than offline friends, or at least, they are more in tuned to what is going on in my life. Of course, the BEST friends are the offline friends that started as online friends. I have a two of those and they are amazing because they know about my blog and read me and know everything about me, and I can also see them in real life and share coffees and conversation with them, which warms my heart and soul.

    I found this community, through my blog, when I was at my lowest and loneliest. I truly believe it saved me and I owe it a lot of my happiness. I know that online relationships can’t offer everything that offline friendships can, but the inverse is also true. I don’t know where I’d be if it weren’t for my blog and the people I’ve met through it. I am forever thankful for both.

  2. I came on here to say basically what Esperanza’s comment did. But since she has already written so beautifully about online/offline friends, all I’ll do is note: what she said ;)

    I will say that Twitter seems a lot quieter. But my blog traffic has been steady. I don’t have a lot of it, but it hasn’t decreased. The number of comments varies, depending upon what I post…

    I know two people whose water broke at 18 weeks with twins. Both made it to 25 weeks. Both lost one twin. Rough, rough situation :(

  3. Very interesting post. There are ebbs and flows. I’m under a deadline and so on a wee hiatus. But still reading b/c I can’t help it!!!! I have a theory about comments and exchange – based on anthropologist Marcel Maust’s ideas about the Gift – I’ll have to try to develop it further someday. Basically Maust argues that reciprocity is the foundation for every society and I think comments are a form of reciprocal giving. But there’s also a notion of generalized reciprocity – not so much I scratch your back, you scratch mine, but the “pay it forward” idea – I put goodness out into the universe and everybody benefits a little bit, so the rising tide lifts all boats and I benefit eventually as well. I think these theories are relevant to how commenting works on blogs but I don’t have time right now to parse it all out – just thought I’d throw it out there (it speaks to the taboos you mentioned).

  4. I’ve noticed a drop in activity. Personally, I think it’s the season. I hardly have anytime to get online and when I do and sit down to write, I get going and then think, “You know… I don’t really give a damn about this.” Then I shut the laptop and move on. Like you I’m having problems with coherence. It’s a tough time of year for teachers, though, so I’m just going to blame it on that.

  5. Duuuuude. This post is right up my alley. I wrote this post last week:
    http://jonandlaura.blogspot.com/2012/04/im-getting-sick-of-myself.html

    The main impetus was wanting to know whether I was being heard. I mean, 500+ people stop by every day. I used to get tons and tons of comments, and then it has dwindled. The comments really blew me away. I know all the reasons to keep blogging but sometimes, it is hard to pour your heart into something and get zero response.

    But.. despite never having gone to a blog conference, I’ve managed to meet almost 40 women bloggers I’ve gotten to know over the years. They are a huge part of my life. Huge!

  6. I am a new blogger – I started just before the ALI implosion. I don’t have lots of followers and I don’t care about that… But I do enjoy the comments I do get from my few followers. I have not noticed a decrease at all – but I do notice a decrease in FB status updates every year around this time.

    For someone (me) who didn’t care about followers and commenters when I first started blogging – I sure care about comments now. And here’s why. I consider my followers friends of sorts. I love hearing from them! I’ve become quite close with one of them. I LOVE social media for this. The one follower feels like a good friend of mine and I would not have her without blogging!

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