Monday, May 24, 2010

Day 6: Maintaining Connections

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   For a long time I've disliked networking, relegating it to the list of things that annoyingly social people did (and quite unreasonably assuming that they did so for mostly superficial reasons). I've since softened on this stand, but my network remains small for reasons that rest on my preferences as to socializing.

   But perhaps for the good of more introverted people like me, networking no longer has to be done face to face; with the advent of virtual social networking sites like Visagetome and Annoyingaviannoise, now we can keep up to date with what person A last ate, or what person B thinks about the person next to them. All in real time, with no delay. We get our information when we want it, and whether we want it or not.

The ubiquity of these mediums is great, since I'm very much connected to the people I care about, but as is evident their constant presence can be a huge distraction.

   En route to class, I can whip off a message via Mobile Facebook to a friend back home, and receive a reply at some point during the lecture, after which my attention span drops to zero. In between lectures, I stop by computer clusters presumably to check class material online, but almost always end up IM-ing someone back home.

   Which is why most people beg their friends to change their passwords to sites like Facebook and Plurk during reading period, before exams. I prefer Leechblock - nothing like having a glaring stop sign pop up after I've exceeded my quota of 5 minutes per hour on Facebook, which is subsequently disabled for the rest of the hour.

As for the choice between first meeting a person online or face-to-face, it very much depends on who the person is. Some people are adept at making others feel comfortable face to face; others flourish in a text-based, distanced environment like an IM window.

And some people simply don't socialize beyond the world of online gaming very well - like The Guild. (c) The Guild

   On the Internet, most of the time you'll have plenty of information about who you're talking with, thanks to the freedom with which most people treat their personal details (and creepy Google stalking), which might not be a bad thing.

   Simply knowing a few basic facts about someone from their profile can facilitate a conversation that is at times better than an awkward, groping-in-the-dark introductory chat, punctuated by uncomfortable silences and clear attempts to restart the conversation with random topics.

"'s pretty nice out today, huh?" "Yeah, I love the hail."  (c) Michael Jastremski.

   But other times, it's rewarding to first meet someone face to face and get along really well with them, before wading into the oft impersonal waters of online social presences. Meeting people through events and projects, and later making the connection online so you can further continue the conversations you've been having (and branch off into other ones) is pretty neat.

   For example, I'm able to keep in touch with other students I met at this year's Malaysia Forum and with people I've met through my involvement with the effort to provide free and accessible US college application help in Malaysia; without online social networking sites, this would have been significantly harder to do since we are all scattered around the globe.

   My lecturers and teachers back home are a wall post away, and so are my high school classmates. And my family and relatives. All of them only a Facebook profile away, or a Gtalk message - pretty amazing.

That is one of the saving graces of sites like Facebook, even with their questionable attitude towards user privacy and information: allowing you to stay connected, even if you're not saying anything to each other.

Because one day you will, and then you'll be able to do so fast and easily.

Charis Loke is a rising sophomore at Brown, concentrating in Biochemistry. Her interests include art and illustration, Tolkien, and procrastination.

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