Last Sunday afternoon, as I finished up my lunch and jumped on Facebook to see if there was any notification from the week I needed to attend before I ended the week, I noticed a friend request on Facebook. Thankfully, Facebook shows the number of common friends you have with the person sending you the friend request. Now, I had never met this gentleman, never had any form of communication so far. Our only connection was that we had common friends. There was no accompanying message as to who he was.
In the past few months, I have been noticing this kind of initiation of communication over many e-channels including LinkedIn, dating apps and website. Emergence of these new patterns of communication fascinates me, surprises me, irritates me , sometimes cracks me up, and in rare moments, makes me consolidate the thoughts in this form! Let’s dissect them one at a time.
We often see that red alert on those blue heads on Facebook from people different spheres of our lives, and sometimes from no sphere of our lives – total stranger. There are times I get request from a first year undergrad student from my Alma mater and our only connection is the common college. There can be an argument – what will someone possibly write in that introductory note that you can’t figure out from his or her Facebook page anyway? But by expecting the receiver to find the information, we are shifting the obligation to seek information on to the receiver. It’s not a power game, it’s not to say that, “Hey you gotta talk to me? You better have a reason” .. no! but it’s a matter of courtesy. In a conference, where everyone is wearing a name tag, people still go up and say their names while saying Hi (equivalent to Hit “Add Friend” or “Connect”). During our orientation at grad school, one professor told us that one should make such connection requests only after having some exchange, preferably in-person. That line of thought appeared very logical to me. I will be honest here. In the past, I too added people without meeting them, and now looking back, I am not proud of that. But in each of those add requests, I ensured to write something. I often question myself if I got this habit of expecting introductory note after coming to America, because I do not add people any more without meeting them. Probably the lesson from that professor stuck too hard in my head. But then even while I was in India, prior to this present immersion in American culture, if I would send request to Indians in different cities or non-Indians in different countries, I would send a note along – unless the person of interest is some celebrity, who I would definitely treat differently! Interestingly, I came across another possible explanation of sudden rise of these unaided friend requests in the recent times – the absence of message box upon clicking “Add Friend”. Earlier, a message box would popup, writing message would be optional though. But since it was right there in front of you, you would not hesitate to write something. But now there’s an extra step. One needs to separately hit on message and send a message after having sent friend request.
This is a professional networking, a different party from a social networking. From how I understand LinkedIn, people play in this field to make business contacts, to move ahead in career or business. Thus sending a request with a defined purpose for connection is all the more reasonable. Even here, it’s not rare to see connection requests with default message. At times I see blind connections, from someone with just no immediate or obvious connection. That surprises me. At times I get default requests from people in very senior positions in the companies. That surprises me.
Dating apps and websites
This seems to be a jungle. Anonymity is probably the only rule here. Interestingly, the communication violation here is not as much about creating new relations, as it is about not creating new relations! Such websites do not necessarily have add-friend button. You can favorite others. I do get messages with contents like “Hi”. Or “How are you?”. Since most people have handle on such apps or messengers or websites, so you don’t necessarily get to know even the name of the other person through these ultra-brief introductory messages.
But the bigger pet peeve comes when I make efforts to go through the potential candidate’s profile and write a message that contains brief information about who I am and some curiosity to know the other person more than what the profile says, and all I get in return is NO REPLY. I was not expecting an I DO from the other side. But the least I would expect is “Thanks for your message, but sorry I am not interested or we are not compatible” . Here I am, waiting for something and after few days, I figure out the candidate has read the message, visited the profile and chose to observe silence as a reply. Now, ‘dating experts’ give many plausible explanations for this. One is that people get many messages and it’s a lot of effort to reply to all those messages from the non-matching dating candidates. Well, unless you are a Jessica Alba or Tom Cruise, entire world would not be bombarding you with messages. Another is that people find it hard to write a rejection message because of the fear that it may annoy the other person. Well, ignorance is biggest disdain, bigger than an honest NO. I think they teach in high school or elementary school, to say hello back when someone says hello. I am told that I should not take it personally, because they are dishing out that ignoring response to all anyway. It’s not the rejection that bothers me, it’s the unresponsiveness that irritates me because that is to do with things beyond dating.
When I think deeply, I have few questions to ask – have the communication standards gone so low these days? Are introductions considered formalities and no introductions or lack of communication considered casual or the norm?
My further discussion with few psychologist friends of mine resulted in realization that I have very exacting standards with myself. If I show up late at an event, I feel as horrible as I would if I had committed some felony. That gets mirrored in my expectations. Probably I need to let myself lose. Wouldn’t it be so much easier to simply click “Confirm Friend” on Facebook or “Accept Connection” on LinkedIn or hit the big RED block button on the apps and dating websites upon no response after a week than spending time on thinking why communication in this day and age taking this form of shape that I am unable to fathom?