I came across a great metaphor for relationships awhile ago – bricks and mortar. Bricks are the “big things” – the events of life that you share with friends. Mortar is the little, everyday stuff, that the people you are closest to just know about, often whether they want to or not.
As Scheherazade wrote in her original blog post that caught my eye, bricks get all the attention. When we think about communication, we think about the bricks. But mortar is what makes it all stick together, and without it there’s no solid foundation.
As I mentioned in what is now clearly the last Tech Watch podcast, I’ve been investigating online communities this year. At first, I was all about the bricks, here, too. I was posting in forums, making new friends and even trying to be a better email correspondent. Email, blogs, podcasts, forums – these are the online versions of going for coffee.
Meanwhile, I’d occasionally ignore a request to join facebook or Twitter, wondering what was the point? If you want to know what I’m doing just ask me or read my blog. It’s not hard to find me online, after all. But eventually I succumbed to facebook and now I’m flirting with Twitter. And yes, the updates can be overwhelming, and yes it’s almost always banal. But this is the mortar of relationships.
It’s true that I don’t need to know (or honestly, really care) if you’re pulling the weeds or late for work or getting a haircut today. But knowing that mundane boring stuff adds real context to the actual conversations we have, context that makes existing relationships richer and new relationships stronger.
I’ve come to realize that the banality of social networks is a feature, not a bug. It is the ability to tap into the mundane that is the reason why these kinds of social networks are so popular, and so annoying. We crave the mortar of relationships, even as we find it maddening. It’s addictive and repulsive. And surprisingly useful.