11.17.2011

When Profile Pics Come to Life

It should be clear by now that I have long been conflicted about social media – what it’s doing to communication in our culture, how we have come to rely on it more than we should, how it tempts us to share too much and retreat into online relationships instead of real ones, and how invasive it is.

But there is another side to it all that I cannot deny.  The fascinating side.  The side that makes us stand back and recognize that something revolutionary is happening.  The world is connected in every way, it’s so easy to get information, you can reach anyone at any time, news unfolds in real time when it’s live-tweeted, and the entire world is on youtube.  If technology gets any more fantastic, our brains might explode at any minute.  Sometimes I feel that way.

yourchica and me Take, for instance, my friend Christina, who joined me for lunch today at the halfway-point between our two cities.  She’s a talented artist, a like-minded blogger, and a kindred spirit.  I would never have had the privilege of knowing Christina…ever…had it not been for that thing I enjoy bashing so much.  Social media.  Christina began following my tweets two years ago.  But it was not until today that we had the chance to sit down over a meal and talk face-to-face, which is always supremely better than electronic conversation. 

So I have to give credit to twitter for it, a little grudgingly.  On the very rare occasions that I have been able to meet the real people behind postage-stamp sized profile pictures, I have noted in each case that you can only learn so much about a person through words on a screen.  You may think you know someone through their writing, but you really don’t.  On a screen, you don’t hear vocal inflections…see facial expressions…observe hand gestures and mannerisms. 

Making cyber-acquaintances used to carry the stigma of being weird and risky. An activity reserved for computer geeks.  Of course, it is essential in 2011 to remain guarded and smart about what you share and don’t share online.  I still shudder remembering the status updates I saw ticking by on Facebook when I had a personal account.  Most people know by now that you should not post your phone number, address, job complaints, stupid party pictures, upcoming vacation plans, or your drama that nobody wants to know about.  But no longer is it considered weird to converse with a stranger through social media, and no longer is it inherently dangerous, as long as the above rules are followed.

Look how far we have come in just a few short years - how much more we are willing to put out there, for better or for worse, than we were in the not-too-distant past.  The general sentiment out there is that since we are all doing it, it must be okay.  Eh, right? 

Three years ago, I was hesitant to allow a picture of my face to surface on the Internet.  Consider the contrast in the year 2011.  I now have youtube videos, blog posts, tweets, and a Facebook fan page.  Most of the people in your own circle of acquaintances have, at the very least, posted a picture of their face on the web somewhere.  A sea of human faces floating around in your computer.  Isn’t that odd to think about?  With all those faces and people in there, it’s only natural that some of them meet in the computer first, and in real-life second, rather than the other way around. 

I am grateful for today’s happy lunch meeting.  I might say that I owe it to technology, but it is better said that I owe it to the Lord, the ultimate designer and crafter of all friendships and divine appointments.  The God of everything allowed technology to be the vehicle by which we would cross paths in real life.  (I like to ponder strange serendipitous-ness.)

Some of you are still faces in my computer that talk to me.  I know that on the other side of that profile picture and bio is a real person.  Somebody who, in many cases, I would like to have coffee with one day.

What about you?  Were you reluctant at first to establish an online presence?  Have you ever had a face-to-face meeting with a cyber-friend?  Have you become less guarded about what you share, or more guarded?  What are your thoughts about how different life is now, compared to 5 years ago?

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