Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Friendship in the Digital Age

Hyperlinks in grey
My BFF Paula Wong and BTF Krystyn Chong. Photo by The Milkie Studio

I've lived in Seattle most of my life and have friendships that span decades. My BFF Paula Wong and I are both sansei — third generation Japanese-Americans. We went to some of the same schools and through different paths we became graphic designers.

Knowing each other for 45 years, we've watched our kids grow from infancy to adults. Professionally, we’ve gone from lead type, phototype and Exacto knives, to falling in love with our first Macs more than 20 years ago. In fact, I have Paula to thank for my tech addiction! When she worked for Aldus, Paula gave me a much-needed nudge to switch from traditional to digital design.

Having shared history, knowing each another's families, being there to experience and support major life events means we share a friendship with great depth and meaning — a rare gift in an era where life moves so quickly that often all we can do is skim the surface.

I think real friendships are important to all of us. How would we get through life without them?

L-R: The Sansei Lunch Club: Paula, Terri, Vic Kubo and Glen Iwasaki. Four graphic designers and friends who have been celebrating birthday lunches since the 1990s.

People now have more ways than ever to connect, but I sometimes feel like technology is isolating me from — rather than bringing me closer — to some of my real-life friends.

It's easier to send an email than pick up the phone. Getting together takes time and effort. Have email, Facebook, Twitter and Skype actually caused erosion of “real” friendships? With the expansion of our communities through social media, where do “virtual” friends fit into the current cultural landscape? And how does the quality of real-life relationships differ from those conceived online?

During the past 18 months I’ve “met” some great people through social media who have caused me to re-examine my perceptions about what encompasses a real friendship.

Last month, Krystyn Chong, my “BTF” (Best Twitter Friend) flew to Seattle to attend Gnomedex, a tech conference founded by Chris Pirillo. Previously we’d talked on the phone and frequently emailed and messaged each other, but had never met in person.

Krys is a persona. She's connected to incredible people in all walks of life, and draws them toward her like a moth to flame. A long-time blogger and online denizen, she’s made a name for herself, not just because she's attractive and smart, but she’s a social media aficionado. She has 15,000 followers on Twitter, regularly creates content for her blog, is a popular DJ on Blip.fm, and recently began publishing to Vimeo with works like “Twitter, Turn it up!

She and I met for the first time at Chic Meets Geek, a pre-Gnomedex event, and later she stayed with my family and me for four days. She is pretty, petite and lively — definitely WYSIWYG. But spending time together was important because it allowed me to get beyond her online personality. It was great to do that. How else could I have known that she would develop a crush on my 23-year-old son? Or that she loves Skittles?

It’s amazing to have "friends" all over the world, whose birthdays are celebrated, and whose life events are updated and inquired about in much the same way we would with friends in real life. Online friendships are especially great for people who are shy or want to maintain a layer of anonymity. If they aren't "cool" in real life, they can be cool online. As the famous New Yorker cartoon said, “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.” 

The above cartoon by Peter Steiner has been reproduced from page 61 of July 5, 1993 issue of The New Yorker, (Vol.69 [LXIX] no. 20) Its use is editorial only.

So I’ve found myself in a strange new place, where numerous messages I exchange each day are with people I haven't met yet, but I've come to care about very much.

It's hard to imagine having a friendship like Paula's without the two of us spending so much time together over the years. I'm lucky to have — and grateful for — all of my friendships. But I long for the time when I will meet some of my online peeps in real life. For me, meeting face-to-face authenticates a connection in a way that can’t be accomplished otherwise.

I'm looking forward to some day being able to give my virtual friends real (((hugs))) instead of virtual ones.

Paula Wong is Senior Director of Creative Labs for the fabulously successful (and addictive) PopCap Games in Seattle, WA. 
Krystyn Chong (@krystynchong) is a social media maven in Sacramento, CA. Find her blog at dreammm.posterous.com/
Photographer Fred Milkie’s recently published book, Alone Around the Mountain, has been nominated for a 2011 PNWB award.
Thanks to award-winning copywriter David Horsfall for reading this journal entry.

No comments:

Post a Comment