When it suddenly becomes dead simple to get more of something that used to be scarce, my natural tendency is to accumulate more of it than what’s really good for me. It feels safe to have more of what I used to have less of.
The network effect puts a sudden abundance of “friendship” at my fingertips. Unchecked, I collect more “friends” as time goes on without thinking about what I’d like those friendships to look like. I never have to lose access to anyone I know. It’s easy to avoid the discomfort that comes with explicitly admitting that a person is no longer a priority in my life.
I have strong feelings about what friendship is to me, and most of those connections don’t feel like friendship to me at all. Having access to a news feed doesn’t even mean I know someone the way they are now or the way I did before. It definitely doesn’t mean I care about them the way a friend should.
My Facebook feed is filled with posts from people I’m not motivated to talk to. We’re not really friends in the way that I define “friend.” They’re not saying things that matter to me. It’s unlikely that I’ll ever see or talk to most of them again in any personal context.
Scrolling past irrelevant posts to find the one from someone I do care about was a constant drip of lost time, and a constant distraction from the people I go out of my way to care about.
Should I maintain those connections and participate in a lie, a known time-suck and a distraction from the people I really do care about? When I say it that way, the right choice for me is obvious.
At one point I had almost a thousand “friends.” Now I have just above 200. Of the 800 people I disconnected from my network, only one noticed. Nothing meaningful in my life changed after those 800 people were disconnected. That says enough about the quality of the relationships I’ve had with them.
I’m still not being completely honest with myself, and I don’t believe I’m still a priority to all of the people I’m still “Facebook friends” with either.
As a means of transmitting ideas, the network is as valid as any other communication tool. It’s not dumbing down our interactions. It’s not making relationships impersonal.
Technology is not making people lazy. We are making us lazy.
Our interactions are dumb and our relationships are impersonal when the way we act reflects the belief that being connected by technology is the same thing as being a friend to someone.
When we share something that makes a friend think, encourage them, show interest in what they’re doing, or participate in a project they’re starting, from one mile away or one hundred, our interactions are brilliant and our relationships are personal.
Technology isn’t one object with one meaning. In the life of an individual, it’s thousands of options with unlimited potential uses. Individuals give meaning to technology by using it to do what they want to do.
New technology has never forced laziness upon us. We’ve only made it an excuse for our own bad behavior. Technology has only ever done the things we’ve told it to do.