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Cotton Candy Friends: 6 Ways Net-Gen Connections are Changing

Posted Jul 24 2008 4:18pm

I am having a quarterlife crisis.

And it reminds me of cotton candy…how wonderful at a summer carnival, big pink fluffs of sugary goodness.  Until two hours later, then your teeth hurt a little and you are hungry for real food.

I am (maybe unfortunately) a Facebook Kid.  I was one of the first on Facebook, as Emory was in the second round of entries after the Ivy League Schools.  It was so exciting (still is often times) I could ‘friend’ the hot guy from poli sci, ‘poke’ the hot guy from the party this weekend and spy on my boyfriend’s exes pics.

Now that I am out of college, I am able to remember (and by remember I mean I get a reminder each morning) all of my friends’ birthdays, contact semi-friends in San Fran when I go for the weekend and keep up on the fact that my peeps in New York just went to an Aerosmith concert.

Great, so how does this serve me other than keeping up on pretty superficial (albeit sometimes interesting friendships)?  In the last week I have gotten calls from numerous college friends who are depressed because they have no ‘real friends.’

The teen (and 20 something) social interaction right now is like cotton candy, its fun and tasty for a little while, but after two hours you are hungry for real food, real connection.

My teen intern wrote a fabulous article on howFacebook is changing the definition of friendshipand this is my follow-up article on this important issue.

1)    Possessive- “When you get cotton candy, you want it all to yourself…or you better get your share”

I have noticed that my friends and I are getting increasingly catty and possessive.  Even my typically laid back and carefree guy friends are saying things like: “Why did you post on Sam’s wall? And not on mine?”  Social networks make it much easier to keep tabs on each other and be possessive of the friends you have.

2)    Useless- “Cotton Candy has no nutritional value”

Ok, so you know your friend went pee twice today (seriously some of the stuff people put on is totally gross).  Many of the social applications, widgets, profile boxes and wall posts are somewhat fun, but mostly a waste of time.

3)    Numbing
- “Have you ever noticed, after a few bites cotton candy doesn’t taste so good, but you finish it anyway?”

In college, ok even still now, I get up and check Facebook first thing.  You get in the habit of mindlessly skimming through your friend’s newly updated photos, Facebook master notifications and new groups.  After a while you do it, because you HAVE TO STAY IN THE LOOP, not because you are actually interested.  There is even more pressure now to stay connected…literally.

4)    Superficial- “The second you put cotton candy in your mouth it dissolves, there really isn’t even anything to swallow.”

Even though you are getting 87 updates per day from your ‘closest friends’ widget you are not really getting to know them.  You might know a thousand hobbies, interests, favorite movies, which soccer mom you would be (check out my Facebook profile), but you cannot learn how they feel about their family, their self-esteem or what their friend’s values are.  The truth is, our generation is truly lacking deep connection with our friends and sometimes even our significant others.

5)    Misleading-“I always think cotton candy will fill me up or tide me over until dinner, I am always hungry right afterwards.”

You really do think you are in touch with your friends.  I think, well I know my friend is in a relationship, she just went to his beach house this weekend, no need to call, I am ‘up’ on her life.  It is easy to fall into the trap of “I know what they are doing and what they like, so I have connected with them”.  It takes a few sessions with my teens to get them to realize that this is not actually true friendship.

6)    Breakable- “Have you tried to eat cotton candy in the wind? No, right? That’s because cotton candy can’t exist in wind.”

We are constantly afraid that a wrong comment, misguided poke or unintentional post might offend or alienate us from our Facebook groups or friends.  Because the relationships are entirely based upon likes and dislikes and status updates, they can be easily broken by an awkward real life interaction or infrequent posting.  This can be stressful and anxiety provoking for us.

I run groups for cliques of girls to talk about their friendship issues, personal issues and overall strengthen their connection and it is shocking how often social networks are brought into the discussion.

I have to discuss the idea of cotton candy friends and that the ‘void’ or insecurity they are feeling in their relationships is most likely due to these seemingly real, but actually superficial friendships.  Please start talking to your kids about this issue and see if they start seeing the patterns, I often find that once they realize this is going on, they can take steps to develop better relations with a few key friends.

I said I am in a quarterlife crisis.  This is semi-true, I miss my friends.  All of my friends live far away and it gets very lonely just relying on the phone (and Facebook) to connect with them.  I wonder if it is difficult for me to make friends in Los Angeles because I am so used to online connections or there really is no one here I click with?

Part II on how I talk to teens about this and how to change it? Let me know if there is interest.


Cotton Candy Friends: 6 Ways Net-Gen Connections are Changing


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