The thing is, I'm just not a very social guy. Decades ago, I used to describe myself as antisocial. Then, the psychologist that I went to during the months when I was trying to decide whether or not to end my first marriage told me that I wasn't really antisocial, I just didn't have a high need for other people. Whatever. It does sound nicer that way.
The fact remains that throughout my life I've been quite satisfied to have a very small circle of intimate friends, along with a somewhat wider circle of people that I'm happy to hang out with. But I have a high need for solitude. It was a singular moment when, early in my relationship with Lynn, I said, enthusiastically, "Being with you is almost as good as being by myself!" One might have thought that such an odd statement would have been the end of the relationship, and I cringed when I heard the words come out of my mouth, but it turned out that she felt the same way. Thus the basis for an extremely satisfying marriage.
So now I live in the world of social networking and ubiquitous connectivity. I carry a cell phone with me all the time but probably don't use it more than two or three times a week. It would never occur to me to call someone up just to chat.
I'm thinking about this these days because there has been a dramatic flurry of Facebook activity among medical librarians. I signed on to Facebook a couple of years ago and for the longest time it was pretty dormant. Things started picking up a bit last fall, but in recent weeks I've been getting almost daily friend requests. Fortunately, most of them actually are friends, or at the very least, professional acquaintances. If I know the person, I'll accept the request, but then I don't quite know what to do with it. I've signed on to a couple of groups, but I rarely check them. I haven't played with any of the toys.
Same thing with Linkedin -- I set up a profile quite awhile ago but it has only been in the last couple of months that I've been getting more than weekly requests to be added to somebody's network. As with Facebook, if I actually know the person, I'll add them. But then what?
When Lynn and I tell people that we don't watch any television other the The Daily Show, the assumption is always that we are tv snobs and someone will often tell us about some wonderful show that we just have to see. We have to explain that no, we understand completely, but there is so much on tv that we're sure we'd like that if we started watching, it'd suck up all of our time and we don't have enough time as it is! It may be that I'm afraid of Facebook in the same way.
But now I'm starting to feel guilty. I think I ought to do more, that I owe it to the people who've bothered to try to connect with me. For the typical convivial person who is energized by their relationships with other people, this wouldn't even be an issue. But for a loner like me, it's a bit of a struggle. If I start spending time hanging out with my friends in the social networks, what will I not be doing? What's the tradeoff? It's not as if I'm sitting around the house in the evening wondering what to do with my time.
I'll try to do more. The irony is, I really believe in the importance and the utility of these networks. I'm adamant that librarians, in particular, need to be at the forefront of understanding how all of the communication tools work and how they are affecting the ways that we learn and communicate and manage information. I know that for many people they provide wonderful opportunities for personal and professional growth and pleasure that they may never have found in the pre-digital world.
I'm just not sure what they mean for me.