Back in the good old days (before the internet…) people used to find friends in their neighborhood or at their kids’ schools or at the office. If this circle of friends felt too limited they’d join social clubs, sports leagues, book clubs or the like. In the old days (for example, when my parents were growing up) neighborhoods tended to be a lot more homogeneous. My father grew up in a neighborhood with dozens of relatives in walking distance – some even in the same building. He grew up in a neighborhood that was predominantly immigrants from Europe (lots of Jews and lots of Italians) where finding common ground to make relationships wasn’t too hard.
Fast forward to today. We live in heterogeneous areas where you can find people of all backgrounds with few commonalities that tie a community together. We still look for friends in our neighborhoods, our schools and our jobs but finding them seems to be harder without these common ties.
Enter the internet. Enter Twitter and Facebook and Google+ and all of the other ways we communicate online. Some help us link together people we knew but drifted apart from – either physically or otherwise – while others help us find a community where we feel we belong. We still look for the same things in our friends – we look for common interests, we look for people who will have our backs, we look for people we can relate to. None of the things that we look for in a friend has changed. What has changed is where we look for them.
About a week ago I went to a gathering of people who met through the internet – a tweetup. Some of the people knew each other before connecting (or reconnecting) online while others had met online and developed a relationship – in some cases spanning months or years – and this would be the first time that they met. For a number of us this was the first time we’d seen beyond the avatar or the profile pic and met the person with no Photoshop or Instagram involved. Every time I ran into someone at the tweetup who I only recognized by handle it was a chance for me to see (and hug or shake hands with) an old friend for the first time.