Connections vs. Bonds

Modern communications technology, social media in particular, has given us connectivity like no other generation has ever known. Science is just now starting to tell us what this does to our brains, and for the most part, we’re making up the rules as we go, typically assuming that more connectivity is better.

I won’t join the chorus of crabasses that want everything the way it used to be (these people exist in every generation, and are usually just afraid of change). At the same time, there must be something unhealthy about this new age of constant accessibility and personal disclosure. Here’s a theory: We’re slowly losing our grip on the difference between a connection and a bond.

I’m sure most people still understand the difference in theory, but it’s getting increasingly harder to tell one from the other in practice. Facebook and Twitter are the first widely-used tools in history to provide a real time running count of the number of your “friendships.” That’s pretty sick, when you think about it. (If you knew someone that kept an analog tally of friends — like some creepy diary tucked under the bed — you’d tell him to see a therapist.) The more “friends” we acquire, the more our feelings of connectivity are bolstered and the more active our little social networks become. Status updates and tweets rush down our live feeds with greater frequency as our follower headcounts get higher and higher. It’s an amazing way to become and stay connected. So amazing, in fact, that if you do it right you hardly have to talk to anyone.

I don’t know how my obituary will read, or yours, but my money says it won’t mention how many Facebook friends I had when I finally bought the farm. And I bet the majority of those friends, and I mean this in the nicest way, will probably have just a passing interest in my demise. That’s because life boils down to a pretty small number of relationships — maybe a couple dozen. These are the ones that count: bonds. You know these people well beyond that overconfident, happy front we all put up on the internet. These people are ready and willing to sacrifice a great deal for you, and vice versa, because you know each other’s dirty secrets and still recognize the other as unique and valuable. You have their phone numbers, and occasionally call them for no particular reason. Such bonds are rare, much harder to forge than connections, and are infinitely more fulfilling. We’d be better off spending a whole lot more energy taking care of these people, and a lot less time dicking around on the internet.

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© 2012, Ian Mathias