By Maggie Foggin, co-founder of Frostbox.
When was the last time I traveled to visit a friend? It’s been a while…or more directly: I don’t remember. When was the last time I had an in-depth conversation with one? About 10 minutes ago, over lunch. Except the lunch wasn’t in our local bar over a mojito or two. It was over Facebook chat, and I was stretched comfortably in the living room of an apartment I rented through AirBnb. My dog Toby was snoring next to me adorably and my boyfriend was working out in the sun outside.
Our parents tell us that millennials are arrogant and disrespectful, and that we have a sense of entitlement. Those conversations usually end with: “It’s not the same now. You kids spend all day in front of the computer, having no memories to call your own. Most of the information you get is from social networks; you will never know how it feels to play real sports beyond FIFA on Xbox.”
Sometimes during long winter evenings, when my parents got sentimental, they would reminisce about the old times, and how they wish we knew how it felt to have those real-life experiences. They used to play outside with their “real” friends, hitchhike across the country, and play guitar whilst sitting around the fire. They fell for people who lived nearby and wrote letters to their pen pals telling them all about it.
I have to say I was really feeling like I missed out by being born thirty years too late. Over time I started to think that maybe it really was better to live it the ‘70s and enjoy what my parents enjoyed when they were my age. I felt like I belonged to the past era.
And then something happened.
I was staring at the list of my Facebook friends online and realized that having the ability to get instant social gratification is not so bad. Maybe, just maybe this is actually much better. I have the control over whom I want to contact and when, how long I want to chat with them without the awkward small talk that happens when we really want to get away from someone boring. No one sees me yawning when the conversation goes flat. I believe we choose our friends more wisely now and we definitely don’t waste much time on mediocrity.
I have met some of my best friends online. It may sound odd to my mum, but some of them know more about me than people I would meet over Sunday lunch. Our best friends even twenty years ago used to be people who were great for everything. They were mostly people we could relate to when it came to experience, income, work, or our love lives.
Due to the fact that real friendship was a time investment, we only had time for one or two great friends. Now, because friendship is all instantaneous and doesn’t require planning and meetings, we can have a friend who is a great listener and advisor regarding business, one who is irreplaceable when we are dealing with a relationship crisis, and one who will keep us entertained with silly stories from his or her life when we are feeling down. We may even be lucky enough to combine some of those traits in one person, but we are not under pressure to do so. We have a crowd of friends who all fill a different role.
I have friends whom I see once a year, but thanks to the power of online networking, it always feels like I have seen them yesterday.
If you keep on top of your networks and keep them up to date, the contact lists you have curated over the years will be priceless. Whether it’s a LinkedIn directory of business contacts or a Twitter lineup of followers, that didn’t just happen overnight. You have created great content, which people were clearly attracted to (or maybe you have got really sexy profile picture).
People never used to think beyond the most possible and simple outcome, and that extended to relationships. Now we really can have it all. People who were once unattainable for a mere citizen are now on the other side of an email or tweet. The six degrees of separation is slowly becoming one. Everything is possible!
Of course, the sheer belief in our capacity to make things happen is also what defines millennials, but we cannot doubt this anymore. This week is yet another week when a young person who had a dream made it happen. Alexa Andrzejewski, founder of Foodspotting, got her company acquired for $10 million.
Stories like that are not one-off events. They are happening and they are happening now.
So shall we give up our online addiction and spend more time with real friends?
Of course we can, but we may be missing out on a great bunch of people who will expand our horizons like no one else, who will challenge us and support us even though they live oceans apart. Let’s live the real life, but cherish those relationships made online as we do our real-life ones, because sometimes in moments of doubt and crisis, those are the people who come to the rescue first.