The first time I met Russ Unger in person was at a gathering at a local Chicago watering hole. Within minutes Russ and I had identified a Polish football fan still nursing the wounds inflicted from his team's loss (and presumably treating the symptoms with alcohol) and we instantly identified a timeless photo op :-). Though Russ and I had never met each other, we'd been introduced by a mutual friend and had been keeping in touch online. These days, we get together fairly regularly for a lunch and chat—I'd consider Russ a friend.
But what is a friend really, in this day and age when we can have literally thousands of them on Facebook, and numerous other networks? How do we decide who are business contacts, industry acquaintances and genuine friends? Where is the line and does it blur at all? These are some of the topics Russ and I will be discussing at our upcoming SXSW Salon session titled "Friendship is Dead".
It's a really interesting and relevant topic in times like this. I've always considered the people I grew up with and went to college with my closest friends—but increasingly as I meet people who I correspond with across multiple networks, I've noticed there is a similar dynamic that happens to that of when I get together with old familiar friends. We're able to launch right into a comfortable conversation as if we've known each other for years. But in reality—we'd just met. Is this something you've experienced? Is that friendship? That's what we are hoping to explore.
As I've discussed before, we're living in a time where our social circles are expanding and potentially overlapping more than ever. Our inner circle contains our most intimate and trusted friends while our outer circles contain more numerous casual contacts. But there are new and emerging dynamics around that. For example, when we were helping Daniela and her family, it was my outer circles that I appealed to and acted first offering all kinds of support. I didn't even think about approaching family and lifelong friends (initially). The inner circles acted later as the news spread. In retrospect, this was interesting behavior on both my part and the part of the individuals who sprung into action. I described the feeling as neighborly—perhaps another subset of friendship.
If you're coming to SXSW, be sure to join Russ and myself on Saturday evening. The format is low key, will include refreshments and it will be more of a conversation. There's certainly downsides to all of this as one person can only support so many meaningful relationships. It's definitely something worth thinking about as we navigate through possible the most connected age in history. Hope to see you there.