The Ice Bucket Challenge & The Cold Truth About Online Friendship

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How long has it been since you've actually seen your FB "friends" in real life?

Unless you're taking a "facebreak," by now you've surely seen video after video of your online friends dumping ice water on their heads all in the name of a  great cause. Even celebrities are getting in on the action! from Justin Bieber (who half-a*sed his) to Bill Gates (who made his awesome), it seems all the cool kids are doing it. But the really crazy part has been watching the squealing, silly videos from my own friends.

Is it just me, or has watching the videos doused you with a different cold reality?

 

I kind of froze in my tracks for a minute when I pushed play on some of those videos and realized how incredibly long it's been since I’ve heard the actual voices of most of my Facebook “friends” (heck, some I’ve never heard before because I’ve haven’t actually met them in real life).

My good friend Joe, for example, posted his ALS Ice Bucket Challenge over the weekend, and when I watched his video all I could think was, Oh my gosh, there's his voice! I was actually startled to hear it. Then I realized that the reason it startled me was because even though we live in the same town, I actually haven’t heard that voice of his in-person in more than 2 years. Even crazier? This isn't just some random acquainance on Facebook, this is a man who is dear to me, someone I consider one of my closest guy friends. For some reason, had you asked me just a few days ago, I’d have sworn it has been no more than 6 months since we last met for coffee to catch up and connect. I would have been wrong. 

So I began scrolling through my Facebook feed searching for other ALS Ice Bucket Challenge videos and found many. One from a high school friend I haven't seen or spoken to directly in 20 years. I grinned so wide when I heard his subtle Philadelphia accent and remembered how fast mine comes back any time I actually talk (I mean: tawlk) to people from back home.

Another video was from a colleague I used to see often when we worked on a community art project together. We were never close friends but she was still one of those people I was genuinely happy to see any occasion we happened to run into one another.

This is the power of social media, right? It lets us keep up with everyone in our lives, near and far. But, I had to ask myself: am I really keeping up with them? Or have I just been interacting with digital cardboard cut-outs of them all of this time? The reason friends and I never seem to get together in person is because we’re always so busy. But are we? Or are we just too busy wasting time half-connecting on social media? 

I noticed something pretty amazing occur as I watched those Ice Bucket Challenge videos.

As soon as I heard my friends' voices speaking on camera, my mind instantly traveled back to memories of the last time I saw each one of them physically, in person. For my friend Joe, it was the time I took a day off of work to drive all the way to his office to excitedly tell him the happy news about the amazing new love in my life. For my friend from high school, it was us goofing around together as teenagers on a youth group field trip to the amusement park (and learned the hilariously hard way that wearing jeans on the log flume ride makes for a very uncomfortable rest of the day). For the friendly community colleague, it was the time she and I chit-chatted after bumping into each another at a neighborhood café. She had great shoes on that day. I could see them in my mind instantly when I heard her voice in the video.

Hearing the sound of friends' voices created a level of visceral connection to them that their standard Facebook statuses alone do not. And it made me truly miss real face-to-face interaction with people I care about. Or at least the greater intimacy of a Skype chat or traditional phone call. So I, for one, am loving the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge for admittedly very selfish reasons.

Those brief, silly videos are giving me a chance to see my online "friends" as 3-dimensional human beings again.

And to me, that's a wonderful cause worth championing all on its own. So while the actual Ice Bucket Challenge is designed to raise awareness (and funds: over $15.6 million so far. Wow!) for the ALS Association and I encourage you to learn more and participate in the campaign if it’s a cause you care about, I also hope the viral phenomenon of the challenge itself also helps raise awareness, on a basic human level, about what we're all missing out on when we stop interacting in person with people we care about ... true connection.

For me, the thought of living a life without that is truly chilling.

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