In a time when we are digitally more connected than ever, at least on an illusory level, social isolation is probably at an all time high. "Friends" and "followers" on social media are no replacement for real conversations and human interactions. Our social media avatars have become yet another mask we wear to selectively portray a certain persona.
I'm reminded of the times I've visited parts of the world where people have no curtains on the windows to their front rooms. These rooms are usually immaculate, not particularly lived in and there to be gazed at by complete strangers walking past. They give only a hint of what might lie in the other rooms. You'd have to be invited into the person's home to be privy to that information. And that invitation is extended to only a select few.
Social media can be like that. For all the negativity that is often directed at social media - blaming it for all kinds of wrongs that occur in society - I think there are many things to be grateful for. Today I want to share a few things I do to make it work for me to stay open to new connections, some of which go on to deepen into real friendship.
These are ten things that work for me:
1) Discover what platforms work best for you and focus your attention on those. For me Facebook, LinkedIn and WhatsApp are the three where I spend the most time. I may have a presence on some of the other platforms but I'm an infrequent visitor.
2) Get intentional about what you want from these sites. That way you don't let them suck you into a time trap of supreme unproductive FOMO. There are some pages I opt to see posts from first because they make me laugh, or teach me something new each day. I'm also a sucker for cleaning hacks and sustainable solutions which go into my saved folder.
3) Think about how you engage with others, both in the things you put out but also how you respond or comment on other people's posts and reactions. The latter often says more about you than your original post does. This is particularly true for businesses. For heaven's sake, don't make it all about you!
4) Look beyond what someone's words or images are saying. Do you see any patterns? Don't take things at face value. Just because someone's always posting pictures of them having a great time doesn't mean their life is perfect. Banish envy; you have no idea what lies under that perfect photoshopped exterior.
5) Make time to interact with the people you resonate with. Don't be one of those silent types who read everything on their newsfeed but don't want anyone to know. Well, within reason. You also don't want to become one of those people who feel they must respond to everything they see and read. Be picky about what you read and respond to, and choose your responses with care. Remember, anyone can screenshot your post or ill judged comment before you've had a chance to delete it.
6) Check in on people you do know and care about. Pick at least one person a week to focus on to see if they're doing OK. Create opportunities and time for real conversations, even if only via the phone or video. Make them non-transactional - i.e. don't go in with an agenda other than to simply connect and chat. Take an interest in them and their life. You might be the first in a long time.
7) Use social media to help you connect with real communities of like minded people. But beware of the "echo-chamber" effect that has played a huge role in some of the recent political upheaval around the world. If possible, choose those that also meet in real life and do more than just talk, i.e. they do stuff together.
8) Occasionally do the counterintuitive thing of connecting with or following people who are not like you. You may get a feel for who they are and how they think, albeit from a safe distance. It's helpful to know that ours is not the only viewpoint or way of doing things. It makes for greater perspective and harmony in an increasingly divided world.
9) Treat people who seem to behave strangely on social media with some compassion. Even if they are trolls who are making your life miserable, it says more about them than it does about you. Quite often their vile comments and inexcusable behaviour can be explained by darker things that have happened in their lives that we may never know about.
10) Avoid the temptation of falling into the trap of showing real time vulnerability to a large audience who won't know what to do with that information and may judge you for it. In my experience, if you're going through a difficult time, it is important to find a handful of people who will provide the safe space for you to talk about it and help you deal with it. Share your experience more widely once you're safely on the other side, if you so wish.
Technology provides a wonderful toolbox for greater connectivity and communication. It is up to us to decide what outcome we want to achieve and accordingly pick the right tool for it. And then use it well.