How Do We Truly Connect Online?
What does it mean to use our current level of connectedness to care for one another? With social media, email, and smart phones, how can we be a meaningful part of one another's lives to the degree that we actually check up on one another instead of staying lonely in a sea of faces?
Last night I had the opportunity to hear author Cory Doctorow speak at Octavia Books here in New Orleans about the themes behind his new book Homeland. Part of the story behind the book is that Doctorow had Aaron Swartz help him devise the concept behind a key plot element. Swartz took his life a little over a month ago now, and Doctorow was clearly emotional as he spoke about both his friend's stand for what he believed and the passing of his friend.
Doctorow wrapped up his discussion with a statement that was similar to the way he talked about Swartz's passing on Boing Boing:
"Whatever problems Aaron was facing, killing himself didn't solve them. Whatever problems Aaron was facing, they will go unsolved forever. If he was lonely, he will never again be embraced by his friends."
Doctorow went on to state that despite all of the social media and tools we have at our disposal for communicating with one another, we still have trouble communicating some of our more difficult emotions. Maybe by being more proactive in checking up with one another, we can help each other fight off the loneliness that is still possible in an environment where so many solitary people interact.
What Does that Look Like?
The question is, how do we make something like that real? What does it look like to offer hope and friendship on a consistent basis? Is it better to select a small group of people that you will regularly check-in with, or do you offer messages of hope to the world at large, hoping that the sentiment will reach someone who needs it?
Social media, in particular, can be a rather selfish environment if we are not careful. All environments can be, of course, but social media offers an opportunity to be a real reflection. By talking about ourselves constantly, we're demonstrating the real focus in our lives. If we're obsessed with appearing witty or cool or whatever the appropriate adjective may be, then we have no time to think about or care for others.
Caring for others online doesn't require a movement or a special social media community. I would really love if there was a website or app that we could just build that would help us achieve this (and if you know of one, I'm all ears), but it boils down to a daily decision. We have to choose to look beyond our own fragile egos to see how we can help one another.
Responsible To, Not For
Dr. Cloud and Dr. Townsend had a very important idea in their book Boundaries. Basically, we are responsible to others but not for others. I can't view it as my responsibility to force the world to feel better and never think sad thoughts, but I can do my part in creating a positive environment. It's not necessarily my fault if my friend has a bad day, but I can show that I care. Not in that bubbly, I-can-solve-all-your-problems kind of way, but in a way that suggests I'm willing to listen.
What Do You Think?
Normally, I try to wrap up each post with a quick question to make you think, but this post is more than that. I'd love for you to share any ideas or thoughts you have about this subject. Is there a way that we can be more intentional about our relationships online? Or, is it up to each of us to figure that out?
Please share your thoughts in the comment section below. Or, you'd like to send an email to discuss this further, you can use the contact form on the About page.