Human Contact The Old Fashioned Way

(AP / CBS)
On the day I announced to the Facebook/Twitter/MySpace "digi-topia" that I was leaving for at least a year I asked people to send me their contact information so I could stay in touch. Granted, I already have a cell phone or e-mail address for most of the immediate people in my life but I thought it'd be a good chance to collect a larger number all at once. Out of 1,664 "friends" I got a response from THREE. Initially I thought, geez, do people not want to stay in touch? Or maybe they just hadn't seen my request. But then it occurred to me that for many of my "friends" I was simply another number or a status symbol—being "friends" with the CBS News science and technology correspondent. And maybe it was best to make a clean break from those folks.

And it seems I'm not alone.

Virtual reality pioneer and digital visionary Jaron Lanier just published a book called "You Are Not A Gadget," which looks at how the web has made our lives both better and worse. I haven't had a chance to read it yet but the reaction on sites like Slashdot has been pretty diverse and passionate. Some of the comments seem to parallel my own decision like this one from "CrackedButter":

"I just pulled myself (from) Facebook, I got sick of all that faceless and meaningless interaction. I had nearly 300 friends and I informed everybody I would be leaving so they could give me their details and we could meet up in real life. Out of those 300 people, only 2 people gave me their details. That says a lot to me as it turns out nobody was really bothered, human interaction has become passive activity (when it should be much more important) and probably with a lot of people I was just a number."

In any case, I still felt compelled to copy the contact information of many people I knew on Facebook, and I've already found myself using tools like Gmail chat and texting more often. At least it stimulates me to seek out one-on-one communication and drops the exclusivity nature of closed social networks. That said, I've thought about logging on to Facebook in recent days and find myself wondering what some people are up to. Then I think back to the days before 2007 and remember that it's actually quite possible to discover what people are doing without reading an update or a feed.

And while you could argue that a blog certainly counts as more "broadcasting" it feels more like a journalistic platform of "communicating" rather than a status update or a Twitter feed. As I tell more people about my decision to quit I feel a little like Tom Cruise's "Jerry Maguire" character who says to his office, "OK, who's coming with me?" But it's not like I'm trying to start a trend or shout a rallying cry. I really did this for personal and professional reasons that are unique to me. Although if people do pause for a second and question what they're getting out of all this social networking then I suppose that's a good thing. Lots more to come.

By the way, it was a mission statement, not a memo.