Bulletin boards, email, chat rooms, instant messenger, myspace, facebook, twitter, google calendar, etc. I am a social networking addict. I began in 1998 in chat rooms talking about competition coon hunting, daschunds, gardening, Y2K, etc. It was novel and it was fun and it seemed you could soon discover nuances in the personalities of people that brought a level of intimacy that merely meeting someone face-to-face at an organizational meeting never could and possibly never will. I tried to count tonight how many people that I've met first on the internet and then face to face. I believe it is somewhere around a dozen people that I have met in face to face meetings that I probably would have never met otherwise. When you chit chat with someone in a fairly open forum and then meet them face-to-face it seems there is a greater intimacy to the relationship from the start.
One of the strangest phenomena I've noticed with online networking is what I will call 'ethno-centering'. A person that you may be familiar with and may even have frequent face-to-face conversations with, but may be on your 'outer circle' or 'exocentric' group of friends, can often become one of your closest networking friends. That online friendship will often bring people closer together as they move from the keyboard and screen out into the real world, strengthening their face-to-face relationships. A Facebook page or Myspace page (I'm going with the top two that I am aware of but there is also many more including Youtube, Picasa, Flikr, etc. that use media to build community around it) brings transparency to a relationship. Its difficult to attempt to be someone you are not when you Twitter often or reset your status often or share photos through Photobucket, Flikr, or Picasa or blog or whatever way you express yourself on the internet. A trail of information gets laid down behind you and like Ebay ratings or Diggs, you become the character that you exhibit, at least in the eyes of those stalking your profile or lurking on your wall (Facebook lingo).
My mug is raised to transparency and intimacy. I praise the author of all knowledge for making all things know in the Kingdom that is already but not yet. If you aren't on Facebook, get on there and join in the conversation. It is fun, rewarding, and so far I've seen it builds relationships.