When you read the phrase "social network" what do you think of - Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram? Is your first thought that it is past time to post some fresh pictures or read what your friends are doing and thinking?
The dictionary definition of social network agrees: a dedicated website or other application that enables users to communicate with each other by posting information, comments, messages, images, etc.
Importantly, that is the second definition listed for the phrase, social network. The preferred explanation is the one that seems to be lost to many of us today: a network of social interactions and personal relationships.
For many in America (the only country I can speak of with any confidence) the first definition has been lost in the chatter and bustle of a permanently connected electronic leash between us and others. We are all familiar with the reality of the 24 hour a day nature of news and information. The gap between something happening and everyone being made aware of it is measured in seconds or minutes.
I read an article on Huffpost not too long ago about a growing business: electronic detox. Attendees of these conferences are banned from cell phone, laptop, and tablet use for the weekend. The goal is twofold: to dramatically demonstrate how addicted many of us are to these devices, and to teach someone to physically talk with and respond to another human being, face-to-face.
Not surprisingly, the article mentioned the rather high dropout rate of attendees. After just a few hours, the desire to check for messages or text someone was too strong to deny. You can certainly appreciate the irony of texting someone that you are at a weekend retreat to break the hold electronics has on you.
Regular readers know I have removed myself from Twitter. While I maintain a presence on Facebook to help promote Satisfying Retirement, my participation in the regular flow of messages and videos is minimal; the snarky, vulgar, and hateful stuff was affecting my attitude throughout the day.
I get requests to join someone's LinkedIn network several times a week but I politely decline. Pinterest would take too much of my time to participate in a meaningful way.
The problem, then becomes, building and maintaining a meaningful social network of real people. I will be the first to admit I am a loner by nature. When you consider my 35 year career in radio that seems a little odd. Entertaining thousands of people at a time on the radio doesn't seem like a good fit. But, actually it worked well. Locked in a studio with some records and a microphone I could project a friendly, let's party type of presentation while operating completely alone and not having to really deal with many of those listeners.
In retirement, my loner nature pretty much continues. I can "behave" well in social situations. I smile, listen to others and affirm someone else whenever I can. But, I just find making many new friends to be hard work. I have lots of acquaintances and "Hi, neighbor" type exchanges, but few close relationships.
Blogging has been good for me in this regard. I have met several new people in person who are either fellow bloggers or readers. I find those exchanges to be quite satisfying. I look forward to spending time with those folks. We share common experiences and common problems and have an easy time relating. Those friendships have blossomed into something much more than just blogging issues.
I think as we get older friendship becomes more difficult at precisely the time they are needed the most. Work relationships fall away. Those we have known for many years move away, get sick, or die. Adult kids have their own lives and families so interaction time tends to diminish.
There are solutions. Join a club or a group that focuses on an activity you like. Become more active in your church, something more than an hour spent in a pew Sunday mornings. Volunteer in such a way that you interact with people. Use the "other" social media to stay in touch with friends who live too far away to see anymore. Of course if your personality type leans toward being a loner, then those simple ideas don't hold much appeal or seem to work well.
Many of my posts urge you to live your life your way. The retirement journey is personal and unpredictable. Part of the reason it is so much fun is that change is a constant. Yes, there may be periods of boredom or staleness, as I well know. But, overall the experience for most of us is quite positive.
So, my question to you is this: social networks and interacting are positive. The benefits of being with others is well documented. But, what if you are happier being alone, or primarily with your spouse? There are a handful of people you enjoy spending time with, but you are just as happy with a book, the back porch, and sunshine. Is that wrong? Is that approach meaning I am losing out on joyful interactions with others? Am I shortchanging myself by claiming to be happiest with my own company (and Betty's) or am I being true to myself?
Your thoughts and experiences are encouraged.