Feel like this should be a video, but I’m not that cutting edge yet, so…

I’ve been reading/viewing a few things lately about (or “around”, if you wanna be corporate), basically, who we are, and who we’re going to become as online citizens. There’s been plenty of ink spilled about how, these days, it IS possible for everyone to know you’re a dog online. (And, in fact, it’s pretty much impossible to hide the fact forever.) Some great food for thought on the sexual side of things from Violet Blue.

Personally and professionally, there are the aspects of wanting to have and trying to manage different “faces” to different groups online: Online Impression Management. Which, really, is just an extension of what we’ve always done. You don’t act/talk with your boss (usually) like you do with your friends, or your mom, etc. Granted, that, too, is changing, at least for some folks, to some degree. (As a side note, the best working environments I’ve been a part of have been the most single-faceted ones, where people are the most “real” together.)


Extending that, the always entertaining and always thinking Gary Vaynerchuk has applied the transparency phenomenon to both personal and business life. Basically, when everything/everyone is media, you can’t get away with shit. Someone will see it, expose it, and call you on it. As a result, honesty, sincerity, caring, and good intentions are going to win out, and dishonesty, insincerity, disingenuousness, and negatively self-serving intentions are going to become extinct, because you won’t be able to hide your game anymore. I truly hope he’s right, and that we don’t just find out that duplicity evolves faster than media. 🙂

Sure, there’s plenty of hooting and hollering about loss of privacy, which is valid, but we’re going to have to sort out and understand what actually counts as personal privacy — that which is mine and is my right and part of my safety to keep to myself — and what falls outside the categories of personal privacy and reputation management.

The argument about whether or not I should be able to claim to be a dog online will become moot. Vonnegut’s oft-quoted statement — “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful what we pretend to be.” — will have an addendum: “So be prepared to be called on what you’re pretending to be.”

All of this got me pondering the basics of how we establish relationships, and how that’s evolved and evolving. Mr. Vaynerchuk added some flavour to that pot as well with musings on on the speed of how people connect, interact, etc., and how our tools and platforms are going to have to keep up with how we’re living and interacting now.

The net changed and sped up how human relationships are established and how they developed. The phenomenon of “internet time” has not changed. It can feel like you’ve known people you met a month ago longer and better than you know friends, relatives, co-workers… (The chaos that that can — and has — wrought in the world is another story.) And I think that continues to speed up, as Gary noted, because how we connect and interact keeps speeding up.

Now, I still maintain that “ambient intimacy” is bullshit. Knowing what people are thinking and doing any and all hours of the day is not intimacy. Feeling like you can discuss anything and everything with people you may never have met is not intimacy. Plenty of people certainly think so, but I don’t. Whether or not these attitudes are good or bad for us… that’s another post. Granted, I think inevitable transparency online is a good thing, since it will make folks “safer” from those who would abuse notions of hyper-developed relationships and ambient intimacy.

Anyway, I got to pondering the establishment and development of human relationships. I think it’s an area where, as in many areas where humanity and technology interface, being people makes us lag behind what technology can do for us. We can only speed up so far. I can only meet you, talk to you, get to know you, and — key — decide whether or not to trust you so fast. And this varies for every person.

But really, the only way for people to keep up with technology in establishing relationships is to hack our minds. Not our brains, but the intangible parts of us that make us social beings. And we can’t do that yet, which I think is a good thing. That’s angels fear to tread territory if ever there was one.

So I am wondering what the result of the lag is going to be. I think the disconnect already exists between how and how fast relationships can be established and how fast available tools let us discover and connect with more people. Plenty of us have “friends” on Facebook who aren’t really friends, and who we haven’t exchanged two words with since we added them. Any number of people on Twitter have thousands of followers. You can’t engage in simultaneous conversations with even a fraction of them at once, let alone develop meaningful relationships.

And so I think the result is an “I’ll deal with it later” attitude for many of us. Going through Facebook approving requests like the wind without really thinking about who or what. Joining social network after social network, or adopting messaging tool after messaging tool. Collections of people and, as a result, bits of yourself all over the place. And then, thanks to human nature… we start dropping threads. Switching focus. And you end up applying your attention to the people and tools where you connect the most or fit in the best. Bit rot for the rest.

Eventually, you get around to the relationship housekeeping. There’s an ancient Rands post that encapsulates the issue there nicely. You slow down for a minute, take a look at this mess that is your online presence, and decide to tidy up. Gmail contacts with whom you exchanged one email. Facebook “friends” you met for five minutes through an acquaintance at a work function, or haven’t seen in 15 years and with whom you have no interest in reconnecting. Twitter followers who never post. Any and all social media tools you signed up for, tried for a week, and abandoned.

Some prunings are easy. You might not even recognize someone’s name. Some are harder. Honestly, it’s a lot like going through your closet — you might have loved that sweater once, but you haven’t worn it in three years, and honestly what’s the real likelihood you’re ever going to put it back in regular rotation again?

Relationship housekeeping is going to need to happen more often than we’re used to, I think. I mean, really, when was the last time you stopped to ponder the state of affairs with your real life friends? Fortunately, we are giving ourselves tools to help. That transparency thing? Very useful. If you catch someone lying, or they seem to talk shit all the time, or they just seem fake, makes it pretty easy to decide where to prune, no? Handy.

And, of course, opportunity always finds cracks in which to germinate. There are already people taking up the “reputation management coach” banner. Can “relationship management coach” be far behind?

Expect a Dr. Phil book on that within 18 months. Although sales might, finally, be affected by impressions of sincerity and transparency. 🙂

2 Comments on Relationship housekeeping

  1. Thanks for the mention and a fantastic, thought provoking post.

    Slowing down and pruning back is such great advice, especially seeing most of us spend our time racing around at 100 miles and hour trying to keep up. Social media has changed what a ‘relationship’ is which, I agree, isn’t such a good thing. Having thousands of ‘friends’ doesn’t mean you are any better as a person – it just means you have thousands of very brief acquaintances. You might as well smile and say hello to everyone as you walk down the street instead.

    But we’re all guilty of it, and I for one am going to try and slow down and reassess my social media ‘relationships’ after reading this.

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