This afternoon my best friend Steffen called me. The first thing I said was, “Hey! What have you been up to the past couple of weeks?” As be began to tell me, it surprised me how strange it felt having to ask him that question.
If the laws of chance should flip on their heads, and I would bump into Jeffrey Zeldman on the street tomorrow, I’d ask him, “How’s your dog doing?” If Jason Santa Maria were with him I’d say, “Dude, killer relaunch. ” Derek Powazek’s in town? “Damn, I’d love to get some of that heat over here.”
These three are all web celebrities – let’s call them blebrities – but I’ve never met a single one of them. I follow them on Twitter, so every day I have the feeling of looking through a pinhole at their lives, even though they wouldn’t know me from a hole in the wall. We’re continually in touch (even if it’s one-way) and they therefore have a kind of daily presence in my life. We all know how this works, so I won’t waste any more time on it.
But what’s this do for my meatspace friends? Steffen (the poor bastard) is part of the “don’t get it” crowd and isn’t on Twitter, or anything else online that we call social. He writes emails (rarely) and calls me occasionally. Although he’s one of my favourite people in the world, and we have a great time together when we see each other once a month, I know less about what’s he’s doing every day than I know about any number of people I’ve never met who’re sitting on the other side of the world.
And sadly, although my emotional impulse is to avoid this reaction, I have to admit that Steffen’s becoming less relevant in my life. I miss him.
Typically, someone who doesn’t “get” Twitter, would stare at me in shocked horror if I told them this, but the fact is, Twitter and other online social tools have made it possible for me to have a kind of light, continuous contact with so many people, and this contact has become an essential part of my life. If those people are meatspace friends, it intensifies the relationship and saves us both time. Instead of asking them, “what have you been up to?” when we see each other I can say, “I don’t really like it either,” and without explanation we both know what we’re talking about. Meatspace friends who aren’t online are a conspicuous absence.
In a way that I myself find completely unfair and strange, I’m starting to resent Steffen’s non-participation, as in, “dude, why aren’t you talking to me?” As Jyri Engstrom said in an interview with the BBC,
Being-hyper connected will become a precondition for citizenship.
In the same way mobiles are a necessity, in five years time being hyper-connected will become a necessity to be an active participant in the social world.
Sure, there are still some curmudgeons who still refuse to own a mobile phone, but they’re seen as stubborn outsiders. I’m looking forward to the certain future when hyperconnectivity is the norm, and I can help, soothe, laugh at and commiserate with all of my friends, whenever and wherever we are.