Every Wednesday, I have an essay on any topic that catches my fancy!
If there's one technological trend that I've resisted, it's the social networking craze. Not that I'm averse to social networking, mind you, it's just that my poison of choice has been blogging as opposed to, say, Friendster or MySpace or Facebook (yes, I know those sites have blogging capabilities these days).
One of the reasons I like reading blogs is because it actually helps me to get to know the other person. Adding existing friends in other social networking sites is well and good but what happens when you want to extend your social circle? Usually, some people simply add friends of friends or mutual friends but my experience in real life is that sometimes, your friend's friends don't mesh well with you (and is one reason why you keep away some of your friends from your other friends). And quite frankly, a photo and a brief bio won't give you that information. Blogging, on the other hand, does impart that kind of knowledge. I get some insight into your thought process, your personality, your hobbies, your pet peeves--whatever you want to write in your journal as long as there's something actually written there. This is especially relevant when you're reading a complete stranger's blog. I mean sure, there's some information you can glean from the person's About Me page, their hobbies, and their links, but at the end of the day, those are superficial details that tell me nothing about the actual person. One's writing however tends to do so (unless all you're posting are press releases). And let's face it, we've read and become fans of the blogs of strangers because of their compelling writing or, failing that, personality.
Unfortunately the whole blogging process can also lead to a false sense of intimacy. I mean if I were a voyeur and followed a person's blog religiously, it feels like I've known the person for a long, long time. But until I take that first step of introducing myself and leaving a comment, the connection is simply one way. I may be aware of the blogger but the blogger certainly isn't aware of me. Or at least me as an individual rather than simply one of their hundreds or thousands of readers.
Moving on to podcasting, I find that podcasting tends to be more intimate on some levels compared to blogging. Sure, you might not get as much personal information in podcasts, but one thing podcasts deliver is an aural experience. The way I write is not necessarily the way I talk in real life. Nor does it convey my speech patterns, my subtle personality quirks, or simply my voice. Those are all elements that we deal with when talking to people in real life and is one factor that may sway us as to whether we like this particular person or not. Podcasts deliver that, especially when there are multiple hosts because they interact with each other and you listen to them in the same way you hear some of your friends chatting. It gives me the illusion that I know the person who's speaking, even if I've never met them or wrote them a letter.
Again, podcasting has that same sense of false intimacy unless one actually gives feedback to the podcasters. If I run into a friend across the street and say hello, they'll react positively. I do think that if I run into a podcaster across the street, there's a big temptation to greet him or her. Except unless I communicated with them beforehand (either writing a letter, leaving a message in their voice mail, etc.), most likely the typical reaction will be bafflement ("Do I know you?"). For me, hearing a person's voice is in certain ways more compelling than simply reading their thoughts and what will probably lead me to such an action.
Having said all that, what matters in the end is your relationship with the other person. You could meet each other all the time in real life and never speak a word online. Similarly, just because you're familiar with someone on the Internet doesn't mean you are best buddies. Blogs and podcasts can be great tools or icebreakers ("hey, are you that blogger/podcaster?") but at the end of the day, is no replacement for human initiative.