Posted tagged ‘social networks’

The Last Question

September 21, 2010

By midnight, I would have been off the net for exactly fourteen days, and I can’t wait to be back. I figured out just what it gives me, and what it takes away. One of the things I got rid of was the “tweet compulsion”,  the feeling that you absolutely must tweet a thing that happened or a thought you had. I wonder how long it’ll take until I’m hooked again.

But wait, we still have one last question…

This one is a little more vague, it’s more of  a “what does this all mean?” kind of question. Even if tweeps are “real and friends”, it still doesn’t answer the most important question,  what we are trying to achieve with social media.

Among my five closest friends, two are online acquaintances. Should I be worried? What if four out of five were online? Does it become weird then?

I’ve been on twitter for fifteen months, blogging for five. What would it be like in five years for instance? How will it be when web 3.0 and augmented reality get into the picture? Will our weddings be major regional tweetups? Think about it.

Question Number 3:

Let’s assume the answers to the first two cybersophical questions are “yes”. Let’s say all your online buddies are real and are amazing friends, both answers don’t matter if you don’t believe in it. A “real” person online can be your “real” friend, but it won’t mean anything if you personally think it’s fake/incomplete, right?

A friend went to a new city where she had known several people online for close to eight years. When she arrived they did a meeting for her and called it a night. She needed help finding a good place to stay, and to know how to get around the city, but none of her “good friends” were there for her. I have feeling a lot of confusion and heartbreak are coming our way if we aren’t entirely honest about what we think of each other, our personal opinions.

So in that way, the last question isn’t one you should ask yourself, it’s one you should ask your online friends, “Do you believe in our friendship?” Figure out how you feel about this, it will save you a lot of confusion further down the road.

As for me, I’m lucky enough to know this diverse rainbow of smart, interesting, fun people who care about me a great deal, online and offline. I plan to cultivate my friendships on both planes, and give them the attention they deserve. I’m not going to merge both worlds into a multitasking frenzy anymore.

See you in 20 hours 🙂


The Second Question

September 13, 2010

In the previous post, we established that in the correct circumstances, you can get to know a person online. I went to Jordan to answer that question, but came back with one much more complicated…

Question number two: Are tweeps friends?

There are people online who know about me way more than any person in my real life can boast, but that alone does not describe friendship. Shared memories, experiences, affection, empathy, interest in the well-being of the other and a sense of a connected future are some friendship factors that need to be considered.

Do you have any idea how I feel?

You can’t have any experiences with someone you’ve never met in real life. You can’t share the unique atmosphere of your favorite restaurant, the taste of your grandma’s cupcakes, the pain and exhaustion you feel all over after playing a basketball game with them. One thing the internet can’t get around is sensory input, an essential ingredient  in living an experience with a friend.

It’s not all that bad though, with good prose, someone blogging about painting his newly bought house can make you smell the freshly applied coat of lime green. An excited status update from someone who was admitted to his dream college with a dozen comments and likes will be remembered for years by all. Relying on memory or imagination, if you know “exactly how it feels”, you might be able to empathize. Usually it’s not the case, and unless the person has a gift of accurate descriptions you can relate to, this obstacle will stay.

Another huge issue is the lack of body language, facial expressions. You can’t know if what you said shocked people, or made them smile, if the person in front of you is interested in what you have to say, or even if they are in the mood to chat. What if you’re mad at a person, how can you show it, without actually saying it?

We have more headway on this one, with diverse emoticons “although their meaning sometimes changes from person to person, you need like two weeks to figure it out”, and what I call chat body language, for example how when you’re mad your replies get shorter and your “….”s increase. The problem with both is that they are voluntary. If you are not open about how you really feel, even if you type the opposite emoticon, no one can figure it out.

The third restriction is that nothing of value can be done on the internet. Let’s face it, it’s free, you don’t have to buy presents on birthdays, pay for dinners, you’re not even paying a phone or sms bundle. The ease of access makes an online friendship seem less valuable, less serious. How would you feel if your friend said he has to leave the party an hour early because he has an important chat with someone he’s never met?

I absolutely disagree with the last one personally, maybe because I judge my friendships based on time, the most valuable resource. It flatters me when a person loses sleep because we were chatting for hours. How much a person is willing to give up to be there for you works even on the interwebs. The other two are true however, for an online friendship to work you need both sides to be extremely open about their emotions, inclusive and detailed about their experiences.

Do you know how your real life friends can be obnoxious on facebook, boring on twitter, and downright annoying on MSN? It’s because of these obstacles. Luckily many of us have learned how to bypass and adapt them, get our message across. If you have the skills, patience, and open mind, you can have a close friendship despite the above.

The cards favor online relationships even more in our region, where so many groups, classes, lifestyles you’ll have no chance of experiencing in real life. Online relationships have made me understand Syria and the Middle East in general for what it truly is, not the way media or even apologists want me to see. The hardships seem trivial when you think about all the diverse fantastic people you get to connect with, how close to your heart they can become.

I don’t think I know my final answer to question number two, but I hope it’s yes, I’ll be losing so many wonderful people if it turns out otherwise.

Are Tweeps real?

September 11, 2010

It’s the question nagging everybody. Are those people we meet online who they really are? How many sides of them have been hidden? Or maybe their whole online persona is fake!

The common sense “it’s on the internet, therefore it’s not real” started a decade ago, with the advent of instant messaging. AOL, Yahoo groups, ICQ. Kids, the internet was a crazy random place then.


Most instant messaging services relied on giving you random people to talk to. You would sit there and chat for hours, and end up knowing nothing new or verifiable about that person. It was like all the internet was chatroullete, minus the cameras. Any person believing anything said online at that time was considered very… sweet natured.

But think about it. The internet is changing by the month, we are pioneers of the biggest thing since the telephone dammit! Judging by recent developments, shouldn’t the age old wisdom be examined once more? Does it still hold water in the age of mutual connections?

By personal experience, I’ve felt every kind of social network offers something new, a different side if you may will:

Facebook is your identity. Your physical identity, fashion sense, city, school, social circle, family, class, ethnicity, the things you are born with. Don’t expect to find anything else though, with the new crowd it’s getting, facebook has become a place to comment on wedding or new baby pics. With the sheer number of 3ammehs and khalehs, nobody puts anything personal up there anymore.

MSN/Gtalk has changed. Most (not all) of the randomness faded, and for many of us, the people we chat with are people we already know from somewhere else already, or old online friends. Chatting is like a one on one interview, it depends on the social skills of both participants. You either sink into the depths of the other’s psyche, or get fed utter bullshit.

Twitter lacks the detailed identity facebook offers, or the focused attention chatting does, but boy does it make up! Twitter is the land of the mind, of ideas, and if you don’t brew them up on your feed, you will never succeed. What makes it so beautiful is that people who understand each other (not similar, those who comprehend your mind) form pockets, and these pockets grow larger and deeper. The whole feeling of your mind and soul reacting with those out there, and getting reactions in return is… unprecedented.

A personal blog however, nobody can beat. You just sit there, holding your coffee mug, smiling about how much that person can get to you. It connects you to their hearts, their essence. You can be infatuated with a person through their personal blog only.

Lastly come the common interest social networks. It can be music, gaming, cooking or any hobby. You’ll meet people there, but most of the talk will be of that interest. It’s a good final side though if you know what to look for.

Dim*Dep*Dur*cons= thumbs up!

Every site is a side of your friends’ personality, and the more active they are on different places, the more you get to know them. Mathematically, there are three factors, Dimensions (number of personal sites), Depth (how active they are on these sites) and Duration (how long you have known the person). My rule of thumb is three Dimensions with above average Depth for over five months Duration. A person like that may still be hiding his true identity from me, but it’s just as hard to do as it is in real life, which supports our original question.

I searched for empirical evidence to my claims. At first it was the Syrian facebook or twitter friends. Real life meetings with nearly all of them were very successful, nothing I knew turned out to be wrong. But then again I didn’t know much by the time I met them, so it wasn’t proof enough. Then came Jordan…

After six months of blogs, tweets, emails, facebook, chat to such an extent that we believed we knew each other more than out respective mothers did, I left for Amman to know my answer to the first cybersophical question. I braced myself for a moderate 70% similarity, and was blown away with what I saw. They were the same exact people I’ve known for so long. The shy online were shy, the temperamental temperamental, the introverts introverted, the egotists egotistical. Then it hit me, what else was I expecting to happen? What other scenario did I have in mind? I am close to these people and have connected with them, why was I expecting that to change suddenly?

Personally, I’ve solved  the first question: with an attention to detail, emotional intelligence,  genuine interest, and the rule of thumb, tweeps are in fact very real.

Now to ponder about the much more difficult question number two…