Thanks to social media, it can seem like we’re well versed in the daily doings of even our oldest or most distant friends and relatives. But tweeting and text messaging can sometimes feel a little superficial, right? We’ve discovered that more and more of us are starting to crave the real thing again.
Charlie Yon is a perfect example. The 24-year-old Bostonian found that relying on digital communications just wasn’t enough when trying to connect with his college friends. It’s not that Charlie doesn’t use Facebook, texts, and e-mails on a daily basis like the rest of us, but he feels their limitation. If he sees something interesting on a friend’s Facebook page, for example, his response isn’t to post a comment but to pick up the phone. “Whenever someone has something important they want to discuss, we’ll forego texting or e-mailing since we know talking it out will be much better,” he says.
It seems like Charlie’s onto something. Researchers have found that reliance on social media may actually be damaging our most treasured relationships. One solution is to follow Charlie’s lead: The next time a friend posts or tweets about a life accomplishment or tough experience, reach out to plan a get-together, or at least give them a call to congratulate or console them. Once you’ve familiarized yourself with that old-school interaction, move on to trying one of these three ways to balance the benefits of social media with face-to-face involvement.
Schedule it in. Try to call your closest friends or family twice a month (more often if it’s your mom!), and set up times in advance. It may not always work out, but having times on the calendar means that even if you miss one call, you’ll likely make the next one. For pals who are local, make the time for outings—even if it’s just an occasional cup of coffee.
Set limits. Sometimes there aren’t enough hours in the day for work, daily commitments, and immediate family, let alone getting together with friends. By limiting your time spent checking e-mail and going on social media, you can open up an hour or more each week to meet a pal for lunch or to have a relaxed phone call. And if you notice local friends on Facebook are talking about goals that you share, such as getting in shape, try getting together for regular powerwalks instead of just “liking” their individual efforts.
Use apps to your advantage. The digital sphere also has plenty of tools to keep friendships and romances going strong. Skype, FaceTime, and other video chats allow for face-to-face bonding that’s low cost and high value, even when you’re far away. Use them to connect with anyone from old college friends to grandparents, or set up a sibling group chat to share gossip all at once.