Thursday, January 23, 2014

On Social Media and Connection

The great promise of social media is that it connects us with people. Be it people from high school, your previous job or friends from across the country, it's never been easier to stay connected with people you once cared enough to know, or at least accept a friend request from. That guy you sat behind in high school who helped you on your science homework before class can catch up on old times. The girl you had college algebra together and became friends all though college can reminisce about the good old days.

That's the great promise.

While I can only speak about my own experiences, I'd say the great promise of social media is not that we're more connected to people, we're merely more informed about people. Just a quick sampling from my facebook feed shows that a coworker is going to the gym, a high school friend is looking for a small Komodo dragon figurine for her son's science project, someone has a cat stuck in their chimney, some guy loves his wife and someone else is excited that it's snowing.

I don't feel any more connected to those people after reading their updates. I know a little bit more about what's going on in their lives (and that I may need to keep an eye out for a miniature Komodo dragon figurine for when my kid needs it one day,) but lost in all the sharing on social media is the connecting on social media. The promise is connection. The practical use is it's one-way communication.

I'm guilty of this too. I spend my time on Twitter following a multitude of writers who are sharing links to stories they wrote or they find interesting. I have to constantly remind my wife that when I'm on Twitter, I'm not wasting time, I'm reading about various topics and opinions on those topics I want to know more about. (It's very likely that's also a rationalization, but in my defense, I have a list of articles I've saved that I'll likely never get to, so at least I can say I'm trying to read about those things.)

All that leads me to today, which is my favorite day on social media. It's my birthday, and dozens of people have taken just a few seconds out of their day to write me to wish me a happy one. I know it's not much. Maybe 15 seconds of their time to go "oh, it's Luke's birthday, I'll write something really quickly." But that's the point, for a moment in time, however brief, people who have been a part of my life, no matter how big or small, took time out of their lives today to try to connect with me. And because of that, I do everything in my power to respond to each one. Not just "liking" the comment, but by taking time out of my life to say thank you individually to each person.

I'm not going to promise that this is the start of a new me where I drastically change the way I use social media. In fact, I'd say I'm likely to fall back to my routine of looking for the little red numbers on the top of my facebook page a few times a day and briefly skimming it the rest of the time. But hopefully, maybe I will do better about trying to reach out to people a little more often, even if it's just to say hello to someone I haven't spoken to since high school or ask how a friend from college is doing these days. If I do it more than I did last year, that'll be a start.

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