Home > Facebook, social computing > Reconnecting with Old Friends Online–Is the Sense of Connection an Illusion?

Reconnecting with Old Friends Online–Is the Sense of Connection an Illusion?

I’ve been hanging out with my friend Mike lately.  Mike’s a great guy.  I sat next to him in French class in high school.  He’s a year younger than me, but his family had spent a year in France, so he was in French class with us.  They should’ve sent him to class at a college nearby–he was in a whole other league.  The last time I actually saw Mike was in the mid 1980s–he invited me to a party at his university, which wasn’t far from mine.

Well, I’ve sort’ve been hanging out with Mike–we’ve been playing Words With Friends (WWF), Zynga’s variation on Scrabble on Facebook. We’re friends on Facebook, and WWF can be quite insistent about who you should play with.  It’ll highlight someone and tag underneath “plays at your level!”  Their algorithm is obviously broken, because Mr. Polyglot crushed me like a bug in four or five consecutive games.  But I don’t mind–he’s always been better than me at that kind of thing.  And it felt great to reconnect with an old friend.

But did I really reconnect with him?  What does it mean to reconnect with someone online? WWF does have a chat feature.  But you tend to use it for things like “nice one!” I did learn a few details about the last 30 years of Mike’s life. While half our high school went on to become successful bankers, Mike went to become a successful international banker. (Language skills rule!)  I think he has one child, a daughter, who is a few years older than my oldest son.  They recently moved back to New York after many years in Europe.  OK, that’s really all I know.  That, and the fact that he’s a tough opponent at word games.  Is that really connecting?  What does it mean to ‘connect’ with an old friend?

I would be inclined to dismiss the sense of connection as an illusion, except for one thing: Mike mentioned that next time I’m in New York I should look him up–we’ll get coffee.  The likelihood that I’ll take him up on that invitation is fairly high.  Before we played WWF, it wouldn’t’ve crossed my mind.  The chance of meeting up in person has gone from near zero to moderately high–a difference of multiple orders of magnitude.  The real re-connection will take place in person.  But it wouldn’t have happened without the online connection.  And there’s a more broadly applicable lesson there–that’s how online interaction typically works.

Categories: Facebook, social computing
  1. April 2, 2013 at 10:20 am

    “But did I really reconnect with him?”

    Well, if you define reconnect as “to be linked or to link together again” then yes, you did. Did your time with him rekindle the same type of connection or presence with him that you felt sitting next to him in high school, well only you can tell that, but I’m guessing not.

    One of the challenges that I see with a lot of conversation around the way we use media is that people fail to define their terms (okay, this happens in lots of places, including conferences and journals). We talk about how social media (or the internet, etc) allows us to connect with others, and it does. But it often facilitates a different kind of connection than other interactions might.

    As an example, seeing Mike in a coffee shop in New York and chatting for 10 minutes probably results in a different conversation than if you were to just see him on Facebook chat and talk with 10 minutes – though it does not have to.

    To bring things back to your example, my mother is an avid WWF player, but has entire conversations (things that look like my page-length text messages) back and forth with her opponents in the app, many of whom are friends from high school. Is text messaging “connecting”? Letter writing? They are exchanging ideas asynchronously, which seems like a deeper connection than just placing letters on a board, though is it as “meaningful” as sitting together for a meal or cup of coffee…? Depends on their relationship.

  2. April 2, 2013 at 11:48 am

    …it also doesn’t help that some games/apps actively deceive their users regarding the level of activity of your friends in the game. There are a few cases where “Your friend John Doe sent you a gift” is an outright lie…

  1. April 6, 2013 at 10:10 pm

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