One of the hardest things about transitioning from Penn to “the real world” has been ensuring the friendships that sprang to life on campus don’t wilt in the concrete expanse of New York City.
Thankfully, technology has made it a real undertaking to fall completely out of touch.
Five minutes and a few clicks of the mouse was all it took to learn that a friend was road-tripping to Savannah for the weekend, another was in the midst of a Law and Order marathon, a third needed help moving a sofa she had bought off Craigslist, a fourth had also thumbs-uped “Hard to Explain” by The Strokes on Pandora, a fifth had checked into Wattay International Airport, and a sixth had just snapped a lovely picture from a sunset run along the Hudson.
Social scientists have a name for the collective impact of this omnipresent stream of updates: “ambient awareness.” Much like the way you can gauge the mood of someone standing next to you through small cues like throat clearing or feet tapping, all of these virtual data points coalesce to give a surprisingly holistic view of a person’s day-to-day life.
In making it possible for people to stay in the loop without having to check in on a constant basis, ambient information is a huge improvement from being in the dark. But it also makes it easier to substitute away from more meaningful interactions. Rather than picking up the phone to give someone a call, we make do with a wall post or a quick email.
Information overload can also lead to inertia. You’re about to dial a friend’s number, but then you see their Gchat status go from green to “Busy.” Now what? It kind of makes you nostalgic for the days when people would spontaneously call each other with no expectation of what would happen on the other end. So much faith!
The next time you find yourself perusing a friend’s profile, call or video chat the person instead. Even if you are interrupting, ninety-nine times out of one hundred, the reaction will be, “It’s so nice to hear a familiar voice checking in.”