Has Social Media Changed the Art of Conversation?

To ask or not to ask? To assume or not to assume?


The other day I had this crazy AH HA moment. I was at a music festival in downtown Denver, CO, flowing through the crowd of colorful people when all of a sudden… I bumped into a girl friend I didn’t know would be there that I hadn’t seen in over a year! We both smiled with excitement and totally hugged it out.  Stepping back, I admired how great she looked and then asked the standard question that two friends ask that haven’t hung out in ages:

“How have you been?”

Only in that moment… without her saying a word, a flash flood of facts began to circle my mind.

Not only was I aware of her move 8 months ago , when she followed her heart across the country to be with her love, but I also felt a tad sad for her with the news that the relationship ended, which is why she was back in town . I was in the know about the super fun week-long cruise she went on with a bunch of her closest friends and the concert she recently rocked out at with her local besties. I knew she became a first time home owner last month.  I could even tell her where she ate donuts last week.

How did I know this? Am I psychic?

No. We are friends on Facebook.

And then I began to go deeper. I wondered what she thought when she saw me? Thinking back to what I had given myself the green light to share over the past 12 months. However, only I, as well as the people involved with me on a more personal level, shared my secret in that I did not update my status with every major life event I’d overcome in the past 12 months. Perhaps people thought I did? But really, who shares everything. I only chose to share, based on my personal standards, what I believed was appropriate. SO, who was I to assume I knew what was going on in her life? Most likely, she only posted what personal information she also felt needed no filter.

Reality was, our conversation kick started with an outline of our lives, bullet points of socially shared information.

How many times have you crossed paths with an old co worker or classmate and didn’t ask as many probing questions about their lives because you assumed the answers due to their status updates?   Or you casually ran into an old friend but tip toed around the big, pink elephant in the room, the life-changing event they posted yet you didn’t know how to bring it up without being inappropriate. Or, maybe you are one of those Facebook Friends that rarely tags a picture of family or checks into a restaurant but instead you scroll the feed keeping up to date on what’s going on with your circle of cyberspace buddies. Now what, do you tell them you visit (face stalked) their page even though your page has the same Profile Picture from last Fall, meaning the face to face friend is oblivious to your own life. These scenarios are new realities we deal with as a result of the influence of Social Media. The art of the conversation has a new normal.

About an hour after my friend and I initially started chatting in the beer line, I decided to share with her all these questions that filled my mind as we walked towards the stage to get our groove on. Did it feel a bit awkward? Yes. BUT, I opened our conversation to discuss all the “status update” details we’d skipped over, lifting the veil of assumption. It also pushed the big, pink elephant out of the way, giving us more room to dance in the sunshine and sing to the live tunes that brought us together in the first place.

So I’m curious, do you allow what you read about your friends to be the backbone of conversation? Do you feel a sense of responsibility to address information you know about someone when you see them? Does it embarrass you to acknowledge all that you know of them from their Facebook feed even though they shared knowing all had the ability to read?

Please scroll down to comment below, I’d love to start a Social Media Conversation 🙂

Comments 4

  1. April 28, 2014

    How did reading this make you feel? If anything popped into your mind after reading this article, I’d appreciate any feedback!

  2. dhills123
    April 28, 2014

    Great blog post Carlyn. I love thinking about the behind the scenes of our social interactions. How long has Facebook been around now, eight years? It absolutely has changed the way we interact with real friends and “friends”. Thank you notes are sent as a FB message, birthday wishes are written on a cyber wall and personal struggles are shared with all 1241 of your “friends.” Part of me is disturbed and saddened by this, but the other part of me has accepted it and makes the most of it. “Catching up” with friends & family just doesn’t mean the same thing as it used to. When you tell a story in persona to your mom and the same story to your best friend, there are differences in how the story is shared; those nuances are often lost when sharing a post with your community of FB friends.

    When I travel home twice a year and run into friends that I haven’t keep in touch with, I acknowledge the things I’ve seen on FB that they’ve shared. I ask how their two children are doing and congratulate them on the new house. Part of the back and forth dialogue is sadly lost, but then again most people these days are in a rush and don’t have the time to do a full catch up. I ask, “what else is new?”

    Human interaction has changed SO much in my short life span and I feel it keeps changing at a faster and faster pace. The depth is being lost, while the reach is getting bigger. Is quality going extinct? I can “keep in touch” with friends all over the world with one simple post. With one post, they can know I got a new job or that I’m traveling to South Korea. Those are the things I chose to share on FB, while others use it as a therapeutic outlet. Part of me feels annoyed and turned off when I see someone sharing something that is really personal…but it also allows me to feel just a little bit “closer” to them. If you looked at my wall, you’d think I never have a bad day or deal with personal struggle. But if we’re Friends in the Flesh, friends that do dinner once a week, chat on the phone, travel together, lay in the grass, boogie to music, you’d know that I, like everyone else have dealt with sadness, loss, anger and struggle. It’s not for everyone to know my personal business, but those that can support me and I can support back, make going the distance and taking a dive in the deep end worth the time and the reward.

  3. Kristen Speth
    April 28, 2014

    Hey Carlyn … I totally agree. It has made conversations in some way easier (as you have a starting point for conversation) and in some points harder (what do you ask about if you already know the answer). Or it changes the conversation. Instead of “where did you go for spring break?”, the question becomes “what did you do in Mexico?” There are also people that use social media to share big news (births, deaths, job changes, etc) and if you miss those updates, you are are out of the loop completely! Social media definitely impacts how we all communicate and we have to figure out how to communicate with each other in this new social media world.

  4. Zoe DeVito
    August 31, 2016

    Social media has definitely changed conversation in “real life”!

    Facebook became very popular when I was in high school. I can look back 5 years and reconnect with old friends on a mutual experience even though it was long ago. I’m able to see what is important to my connections, even if all they post are internet memes.

    Although Facebook is great for connecting online, I make a conscious effort to unplug. I visit Facebook, at most, once every other week. Why? I think that face-to-face connections are stronger. I try to meet up with people because it provides a platform to strengthen relationships even greater than online.

    I grew up in Connecticut and now live in Denver. It’s impossible to spend lots of face-to-face time with my friends back home. Google Hangouts (which is like FaceTime and Skype for those who are unfamiliar) is my favorite app to use to connect with people online.

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