The complicated technology of relationships

Source: istockphotoThe last few months, friendship has been on my mind quite a bit. Sometimes it’s been due to events that have happened - to myself or others. Sometimes it’s just part of my general reflections on where I’ve come from and how people and relationships have influenced me. 

In the last three years, a whole new dimension to my personal relationships has opened up. It’s the social media dimension.

I was invited to join Facebook in summer of 2007 by a co-worker. She was my first “friend” and we’re still friends through Facebook though I haven’t worked with her in a year and a half. That’s one of the things I love about Facebook. I can keep in touch with people without a great deal of effort, and vice versa. Let’s face it: we’re all busy and getting an occasional snapshot of people’s lives is nice. I’ve reconnected with many friends from high school and people who I’ve lost touch with.

I used to listen to a tech podcast - CNET’s Buzz Out Loud - and learned quite a bit about social media in general through the podcast. At one point they talked about a CNET employee who had linked his wife to his relationship status on Facebook, but as his profesional notoriety increased, he decided he wanted to separate his public persona from his private life. So, he deleted his wife’s name from his relationship status. And all of his friends and hers got the message that they were no longer married.

Relationship statuses are still published in the feed to this day (unless you disable it in your settings). I’ve had a few friends whose relationships either ended or hit rocky times and changes to that status are broadcast to everyone (It’s Complicated) and I always feel awkward about it. Not that I don’t want to know or wouldn’t be supportive in whatever way I can. But it’s abrupt to have all of your friends learn about something so momentous that way.

When I think about the “online” factor of relationships, it blows my mind. So much is documented that people don’t often think about. I can’t even count how many stories I’ve heard about jobs lost, reputations tarnished, relationships ended because of little bits of information people pick up from individuals’ online activities.

Some people get online and let it all hang out - after all, there’s no one sitting in front of you inhibiting your rash information dissemination. If there’s no face reflecting feelings, it’s easy to write or do things at a distance that you wouldn’t do face-to-face. At the other end of the spectrum, there are people that are afraid to put anything out there. Many refuse to join social networks or online communities at all. (Perhaps that’s the safest bet.)

I think there is a happy medium between these extremes. I use a few filters with my online activity.

One is the mom-filter. And it goes two ways:

  1. Would my mom (or dad) be disappointed to read/know this about me?
  2. Will my son be disappointed to read/know this about me?

Another filter I use has to do with my employability - would a potential employer stop talking to me if they read/know this about me? This one is tricky since everyone has the right to their opinions and free expression, but I think it has to do with character and how you conduct yourself overall. Being respectful of others is crucial, even when there are differences. For me, my online activity is a personal hobby. I do not talk about what I do or where I work. (I’ve even deleted comments where others have inadvertently mentioned details about my work online.)

The last major filter I use is my own comfort zone. I like to call it the this-could-be-out-there-forever-and-do-I-really-want-that filter. Like many people, when I first joined Facebook, I wasn’t terribly selective about what I said and did. As time went on, though, I gained friends and eventually realized I needed to think more carefully about what I was saying. Sure, you can delete posts, but if even one person saw it before you deleted it, then it’s out there. (It’s also Facebook - so, how do we know they actually delete it on the back end?)

We all know that reading words on a page is a recipe for misunderstanding the intent and tone of a message. But what isn’t said can be just as damaging when you’re building relationships online. It’s interesting to see how relationships built online often cause as much (if not more) angst and hurt as “in real life” (IRL) relationships. What’s more, it’s sad to see how IRL relationships are ruined by poor choices online.

It makes me wonder if technology truly causes complications with relationships or if people complicate things entirely on their own by not thinking through the implications of their actions thoroughly.

What do you think? Do you have any filters you use when you’re posting content online?