NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- I have a friend with whom I tend to communicate daily. Even though we met just a few months ago -- and not even in person -- I consider him a friend. We share common interests and appear to enjoy one another's company.
But, it's weird, we have been together in the flesh (no jokes from the insecure in their sexuality testosterone-fueled peanut gallery, please) just one time. A few weeks ago for a few hours on a trip I made from NYC to DC. Our friendship takes place, almost exclusively, over email, text message, Twitter and, occasionally, telephone. That's no longer strange; in fact, it's increasingly becoming the norm.
And that's a good thing. I am this flavor of friend with way more people than I was just a few years ago, let alone 10 or 20. Social media, led by Twitter and Facebook (FB) - Get Report , disrupted tech and related spaces, but it also redefined terms such as "friendship." More levels exist and your #bestie could very well be somebody you have never actually met in person.
But there's a creepy downside to this positive outcome.
For large numbers of people, the artist formerly known as RIM -- BlackBerry -- started the trend. The CrackBerry addictions many of us had came on the heels of "beepers" making us always accessible. RIM just upped the game with instant email and what would become Messenger. Apple (AAPL) - Get Report came along and, in concert with the emergence of social media, eerily upped the game.
Now, relative to the days when you could not get hold of somebody, we're always accessible. And, even moreso, for many of us, it's always possible for quite a few people -- even complete strangers -- to track our comings, goings and absences. Even without GPS or NSA clearance.
That's a somewhat obvious modern world gripe, but I hope to take it a philosophical step or two further.
Last night I texted my friend. He did not reply. That's not unprecedented, but it is odd. So last night -- and this is the creepy part -- I looked to his Twitter account. He hadn't Tweeted for a few hours. Also weird. A few hours later I checked again -- creepy -- and still no Tweets. No replies to my texts either. I woke this morning and same thing -- no Tweets for 16 hours (!) and no replies to my texts.
As it turns out, this guy had tickets to a baseball game last night, wanted to keep score (geek!) and shut down his smartphone and all social media for a while. He's not dead, disabled or attending to some sort of family emergency. But the thoughts crossed my anxious mind more than once that something not good was up.
Along similar lines, another person I have become friendly with through work and Twitter came down with cancer. That's a lame way of putting it, I know, but I hate cancer and am tired of giving it so much power. Throughout his ordeal, we communicated on Twitter. With every absence or direct message that went unanswered, I considered the morbid, but very real possibility, that he had died or was in such horrible shape he couldn't type.
As the most important aside ever, I understand that this brave soul F**KED CANCER!!. All right!
Just the other day, I got a note from a friend stating: Hey, Rocco...noticed your twitter absence. Everything a'ight? Social Media...Love/Hate...We still on for this wknd? What day works best?.
Because if I decide to pull back on Tweeting there must be something wrong. Right?
When I was a kid, I relished the summer. It was the only time I could get away from the people who had the well-intentioned and very legitimate desire to be in constant contact with me. When I would get on my bike and ride away from my block, my parents and friends I didn't want to play with didn't know where I was, but, more importantly, they couldn't get hold of me.
That was the last time I experienced true freedom.
It all ended once I got my first mobile phone and started using the Internet.
That's not pure complaining. Living in a connected world certainly has upside. In the last few months, I have met with people who I never would have had access to in that old world where it would have been more difficult, if not impossible, to reach one another. You try sending a letter to an executive or otherwise busy person and see how quickly you're able to set up a meeting, now or in 1985.
But there's downside also. The somewhat obvious downside I articulate here. The creepiness. The needless anxiety I feel when a friend decides to break these inane social expectations we have by turning off his smartphone for 16 hours. But there's more. And it's the more lofty philosophical stuff that has prompted me to pull back from both Facebook and Twitter.
First, there's the reality that much of the time I'm spending on Twitter and Facebook isn't as constructive or professionally useful as I think it is. It keeps me from doing other things that I should be doing -- writing, exercising, practicing guitar, walking to the ocean, having sex.
Second, and more importantly, it's a freaking brain drain.
I started on this line of thought months ago when I was walking down the street. Within the span of 15 minutes I had about three or four thoughts that bubbled to the surface long enough to render themselves meaningful. During the same timeframe I saw the same number of things worthy of a picture. That happens often. Actually it happens all day long.
I'm a thinker. I'm introspective. I like to noodle on stuff. And, from a visual perspective, I live in a relatively exciting place. It's naturally beautiful, and there's also near-constant human activity. As such there's always something to snap a photo of.
But, as I have thoughts, they don't go through the same cognitive processes they used to. Back in the day -- like when I was a kid or in college -- I would have a thought. I would process it. I would reconsider it. I would challenge it by coming up with alternative thoughts. I would have these little, but very rewarding and useful debates with myself about the thoughts I was thinking.
When I saw an object of beauty or interest or something otherwise compelling, I have always wanted to capture the image, but I used to go on to assess it using the same type of process I explained regarding my thoughts.
I noticed that I don't do that much anymore. When I have a thought or see something somehow stimulating, it stops there. My consideration of the thought or image stays at the shallow surface because, almost instantly, I think Would this make a good Tweet, Facebook post or Vine video? And if it doesn't immediately strike me as workable on one of these mediums, how can I make it so?
Social media not only stunted my intellectual growth, but I reckon, it threatened to end my career as an inquisitive, critical, thinking person. It's cogito ergo sum not I share a post I think a bunch of random friends on Twitter, Facebook or Vine will like, therefore I am.
But, maybe even more importantly, I'm just concerned that this brain drain -- this perceived drop in my intelligence -- will squash my relatively high sex drive.
Here's my logic, in the spirit of those excellent DIRECTV (DTV) commercials that have been running for a while.
Research shows that smart people have higher sex drives than their not-as-intelligent counterparts. They might not be having as much sex -- at least with other people -- but they have high sex drives. And, because a large portion of the product of a high sex drive happens in the imagination, I really like having one.
So if social media makes me dumb and my sex drive goes down, I might end up in the proverbial roadside ditch. And that's not where I want to be.
--Written by Rocco Pendola in Santa Monica, Calif.