Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Um, Do I Know You?

Before the days of social networking and on-line profiles, I frequently failed to correctly correlate people's names to their faces. That's a nice way of saying that I forgot people's names. I'm even worse with faces, actually.

I'm so bad that I couldn't recognize my first cousin at a railroad station. ("He had a hat on," I told my then-husband, who had recognized him immediately despite having seen him only twice before.) Thank goodness most people don't have such poor facial memories, because I can usually find people because the person at the train station is looking at me, and their facial expression shows that they recognized me.

Now, when I forget a name, if I get the context right I can go through the people in my social network, and remind myself of the name. I'm pretty good at remembering names once I've read them in text, meaning my retention has gotten much better. If I'm meeting an old friend, or one I can't quite recall despite having seen him the day before, I can look them up online to remind myself.

It's fun meeting someone for the first time and knowing what they look like, or doing a telephone interview and never meeting them and still knowing what they look like. I mean, it could be potentially fun for people who can remember those types of things. (Yes, I have been unable to recognize someone in a coffee shop despite having looked up their picture online an hour before, too.)

Unfortunately, my poor facial recognition skills have been replaced by non-reciprocal relationship intimacy.

I frequently update my Facebook status, which means that anyone paying attention has a fair idea of what my life probably looks like. I am fairly careful not to write anything too intimate, or anything I don't want my employer to know. However, I do update at least once a day (less on weekends usually), and my profile is public, plus I friend anyone who wants to friend me.

What this means is that I can run into someone at a networking event, and that someone I have never met before could walk up to me and say "Hi, Rebecca! How are the home repairs going?" Now I am totally out of context with the person. I don't know how I know them (I don't), they are into my personal life (because the answer to the question is that I now have a carpet with mint-green paint splashes all over it), and worst of all I don't know their name and don't know that I am not supposed to know it.

They probably know I don't know, or at the very least wouldn't be insulted if they learned I don't know, and now it is too late because instead of giving them a blank look, I did the thing they train marketing people to do, which is too look them in the eye, smile, and confidently launch myself into the conversation. This is what I call non-reciprocal relationship intimacy. If I'm lucky and the context is right, I can exchange business cards with them. Unfortunately, this doesn't work in contexts such as a roller-blading, synagogue, or a supermarket.

I've always been active in online communities, and for at least the last 5 years I have met people who asked me "Are you THE Rebecca Rachmany?" (I wonder why they ask that; there aren't any other Rebecca Rachmanys I know of.) When people asked that I knew they were either members of Digital Eve or Tech-Shoret. Now, if someone asks that, I wonder what happened to their Internet connection. Not only do people not ask, because they've seen my picture, but they also know all about my professional life, and something about my personal life (usually that I am addicted to roller-blading), and they jump right into a conversation.

At the end of the day, despite a bit of discomfort, I've found the status updates have kept my friends closer to me. Often people say they feel they know what is going on in my life even though we see one another infrequently. That's a warming feeling. Even though it often seems nobody notices, people are reading those status updates, and it is creating a bond that wouldn't otherwise be there. So.... what are you doing right now?

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