There is no better example of a perfect love/hate relationship than people and status updates.
We are undeniably addicted to knowing the goings-on of friends and family, and yet when we come across a status update we disagree with we complain that people are providing too much information too often. Love. Hate.
These micro-publishings of thoughts, feelings and actions are changing our conversations.
Recently a friend shortened our conversation by saying, "I'll stop talking. You should totally read my tweets from last week. I won't spoil it for you." Before then I thought Twitter is what we use when we can't have a conversation with someone.
That same week my father read on Facebook my nieces car had broken down on the highway so he telephoned me to ask if she was all right. This was a status update that prompted a phone call. I don't see this as either good or bad, but it's one case where a status update created a real conversation that wouldn't have existed otherwise.
If there is a downside it's the impact status updates can have on long-standing offline relationships. The low point of 2009 was unfriending someone I've known for more than a decade. This after getting too much grief on a single status update about waiting too long for food to arrive at a restaurant. What should have been a temporary setback has become an almost permanent break in our mostly off-line friendship.
We're operating without a rulebook. There's no Ms. Manners for social networks and as long as common sense prevails there shouldn't be one.
You can see the flaw.
The best we can do now is identify common status types and address them one at a time.
The Drive By Status
Short and usually bitter, the Drive By Status is rarely worth the time to read: Hoser. Ya mama. Me too. I want to go to there. No way.
The I Have Confused My Update With A Real Conversation Status
A method of communication by Moms and Dads this status update is longer than any conversation you've ever had with a parent. They are the reason for character limitations.
The Emergency Status
As odd as it may seem one should plan ahead before using an emergency status. When you drop your baby and use LOL in the same update you may not want the help that awaits you from friends who have called the Child Services.
Many of us have experienced excess on a school night and paid the price. All efforts to cover the gaffe can be thwarted by the status update "Wooohoo! So muh fuhn 2nite!!! gunning call in sick...shhhhpt" followed by the realization you're Facebook friends with your boss.
The Make-Ya-Guess Status
These status updates provide 1/16 of the information needed to know if someone is alright or not. "Fired." is a doozy of an update except when the person putting pottery into a kiln. "Haven't seen my wife in days" could be the sign of the end or just a comment about competing work schedules.
If it all gets to be too much there are two buttons to become familiar with: the Hide feature on Facebook and the power button on your phone or computer.
Curious about everything, Michael plans to do it all. A ruffian by day and a lover by night he's managed to go where no one else has gone. His slight forgetfulness means he is curious about everything and plans to do it all. A ruffian by day and a lover by night he's managed...
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12.21.09 @ 1:46p
Ever since my mom joined Facebook, I will occasionally post statuses (statii?) solely for the purpose of worrying her. "...woke up in the bathtub again." "...shouldn't have made that bet." "...might be getting a cold."
12.21.09 @ 3:00p
One thing I've noticed, at least with Facebook (haven't really gotten into Twitter, so I can't speak for that) is that sometimes you need to say a little bit less if you expect to get any response. If you tell your whole tale upfront, there's no need for anyone to react, and for all you know you've bored your audience to tears, much as you would if you told a long dull story in person.
Which is how a conversation works. You don't soliloquize; you say a little something, then if I'm interested, I say something back, and so forth.
12.22.09 @ 11:28a
Good point, Tim. I facebook, almost daily. In some ways, I find it validating that others enjoy either my friendship, or my words, enough to read them and comment on them. I write because I know I have an audience out there...somewhere.
I think the "like" feature in fb is an easy way for people to opt-out of making a comment, though. Have we come to a point in our technologically driven lives, that we're too busy to write less than 140 characters or 160 characters, which takes less than 2 minutes?
I'm a big fb advocate. It's clean (relatively speaking), it's user-friendly, and it brings people together. That said, there's also something intimate about face-to-face conversations that no form of technology will ever be able to replace. There's something about being able to instantly see someone's reaction, read body language, and hear a tone that is often not as easily portrayed in text, or at least not in short messages on a phone, on fb, or on twitter.