At first glance, it seems my popularity is at an all time high.  My inbox is bursting with new messages.  I receive daily friend requests on facebook.  I’m getting ready to set up a twitter account in anxious anticipation of my legions of followers.  But unfortunately I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed a cup of coffee with a good friend.

I often wonder how online social networking influences our ability to interact with one another in person.  Long gone are the days when I stop in at a friend’s house just to say hello.  Granted, online networking is much more convenient since we always know the person is “at home” and we never have to deal with annoying busy signals or call-waiting tones.  As a result, I suspect many of us are now more comfortable writing an email or texting than picking up the phone or stopping in for a visit.  Maybe this is why online dating services like LavaLife and eHarmony have been so successful, or why I can’t find a teenager walking down the street without manically punching texts into their phone… these devices compensate for our diminishing ability to initiate a face-to-face conversation.

I remember my student days – before the advent of myspace and facebook – when each new class, new party or trip to the campus pub presented an endless array of potential great friendships.  If you are a student, cherish these opportunities: go out and make enough friendships to last into your thirties and forties.

These days, going out and meeting new people is exhausting.  First I have to find a place where it is possible to interact with others… not easy.  Then I have to work up the guts to actually interact with others.  All this work to find that the person you’ve reached out to is not a good match.  Add an infant who demands regular naps and feedings and the task is near impossible.  Meanwhile, I can type a few words into Google and instantly connect with hundreds, if not thousands, of people who share my interests, concerns and ambitions.  So why bother?

Our global online community, while interesting and exciting, is impeding the success of the local community right outside our front doors.  While we sit inside approving friend requests on facebook, our good friends sit at home wondering why we no longer share those intimate cups of coffee.  While we discuss a book with someone overseas, the cookies go stale at our local book club.  As I write this post, I’m sure there are a wide array of local service clubs that would welcome my time and energy.

It’s time to start reaching out.  Thinking of someone? Show up at their house with a bottle of wine.  At work?  Consider popping your head over the cubicle with a smile and wave.  Griping about the lack of a particular program, service or piece of infrastructure?  Go out and join those who are actually doing something to make it happen.  These experiences are more meaningful than those we have while mesmerized by the glow of our screens.

But here I sit at my computer, filled with excuses to stay inside.  I don’t want to disrupt Tess’ napping and eating schedules.  I don’t know many other people with children and don’t know where to meet other parents.  And surely all of my childless friends are too busy with their careers to be bothered.

Yesterday Tess and I were in the pool during her swimming lessons.  She made eye contact with another infant and the other little girl smiled and reached out to hold hands.  There they swam, hand in hand, completely content in their friendship.  My heart melted… it was one of the most powerful cases for physical interaction I’ve ever seen.

Now if only mommy can get out from behind her computer screen.  Does eHarmony offer matching services for parents?