It’s been awhile since I’ve had the opportunity, time, and creative inspiration to write. After a recent experience of pulling away from interacting via the greater part of social media, I decided to reflect on my observations.
At the end of last month, I had a discussion with one of my closest friends and confidantes about social connections – the making and developing of them in this day and age of cyberspace. In our conversation, she suggested a social media diet of sorts for at least a seven-day period. I would refrain from viewing, commenting, creating my own posts, clicking “like-wow-haha-love”, using direct messaging and so forth. I did allow exceptions for professional or private groups that connect to personal interests of mine as some of those are necessary for the work I do or am developing.
While I came to understand that this would be good for me, I have to confess I went into it with a bit of kicking and screaming. I wasn’t completely opposed to the concept of it, but when D-day approached, I was feeling like I had been told that I was no longer allowed to indulge in my favorite sweet treat. I saw that sea-salt dark chocolate caramel candy bar being pulled from my hand and put into a cupboard under lock and key. So, now what? How do I feed that sweet tooth now? Or, worse yet, how do I face the withdrawal?
Pondering this led me to this question of “community”. As a pre-cyberspace youth, community was a very different animal. You actually had to TALK to people to build your community. You had to pick up a phone, walk to the neighbor’s house, sit across the table from someone and LOOK at him or her. What a radical concept today. Now it’s direct messages, texts, emails. Or worse yet, public posts on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or whatever the flavor of the day is for you. We build our “community” based on words on a screen. Where there’s no eye contact. No tone of voice. No facial expression. No body language.
Yeah, I know these platforms also allow for videos, voice clips, and photos. But these are just random snapshots in a short moment of time. There is no real-time interaction as the norm. (Side note – I realize that Face Time, Skype, etc. is different – but it’s not the way most of us interact the majority of the time throughout our day).
So, we go on building these communities, making connections without the warmth of regular true interaction. The idea of developing an entire relationship with someone without ever having spoken directly or seeing each other physically in person is not farfetched. In fact, for many, it’s the preferred way to interact.
As I reflected on this, I had to look across the spectrum of what I define as my community. I have my work colleagues – both within and external to my immediate department, my professional wellness coaching groups, friends outside of either of these groups, and then – yes – my “cyber” community. But in doing this inventory of sorts, I realized that not one of these groups included those in my immediate physical neighborhood. Not one person who lives in my condo complex would I consider a member of any of those aforementioned communities.
This realization actually made me feel a sense of loss in that moment. Gone were the days of just walking next door and having a chat about your day over a cup of coffee. No impromptu potluck dinners. No walking the ‘hood together in the evenings. All gone, for the most part. Now it’s a society of play dates and comparing calendars just to get together for a few hours. Everything is planned and orchestrated to the minute. And all of this circles back to my social media hiatus.
I had come to realize while in self-reflection that I had begun to rely on Facebook, Instagram and the like to be my social companions, especially in the evenings. Having been in the past used to dinner conversation about the day’s events when I had other members in my household, I found that I missed that interaction as someone who now lives alone. While I have a dog, all he can muster up in response to my chatter about the day’s events is vocal begging for his dinner. He really couldn’t care any less about what I had to say so long as his dish was full.
So, I slowly started to find myself with dinner plate and tablet or phone in hand as the way to spend many evenings. These scroll-read-like-comment activities took the place of conversation. These hours became my nighttime connection to the world. This isn’t to say that there weren’t meaningful and even deep interactions. Quite the contrary. And, I even have developed some very close and valued friendships through social media or other cyber introductions. However, I developed a sense of FOMO – what would I miss if I didn’t just take a peek at Mary’s latest post first thing in the morning? What would I not see if I didn’t simultaneously scroll and troll social media while half-listening to a favorite TV program? And God forbid, what if I missed someone commenting or asking a question on one of MY posts? It got to the point where some of these connections were through only messages and these posts with no actual desire to TALK to one another!
In the end, what did I conclude from all of this? I learned that I was way too connected to scroll scroll scroll and not connected enough to real conversation. I discovered that I need to be more judicious in how I interact in the cyber world. It has its value, particularly when used strategically in the realm of professional or personal development and interests.
But the most important insight I had was that I have to factor this in when working with wellness coaching clients. There are clients who are terrified to have a face-to-face interaction for mere moments, much less an hour. In exploring resources, they may have in their arsenal to make desired life changes, these likely could exclude actual personal support. Therefore, as a coach, I have to be willing to meet these clients where they are. Use that cyber space platform perhaps in a teleconference session or be open to the idea that they may need to explore a wide plethora of supportive resources to get to that preferred future. In the end, it comes down to being willing to consider all possibilities of community and how each of us defines that word.
We all need our tribe – no man or woman is an island unto him or herself. I encourage all of you to reflect on how you define your own personal community. How has it evolved or changed? Does it support you and do you support it in a meaningful way? What can you do perhaps to make some changes in how you interact within your community so that you all thrive? I’d love to hear from you as you consider the answers to these questions. After all – if you’re reading this or watching the video version, I consider YOU a part of my community.