August 15, 2015

Can Social Media Create Real Connections? 7 Steps to Help it Happen.


What a strange world we live in, where nothing is necessarily what it seems.

With the help of technology, we’ve learned to manipulate reality and because of that, we often prefer the virtual to the real.

But what if there was a way to foster– not only reality– but depth, using the very same tools that we often use to avoid both?

I think there is.

What I’ve realized, on Facebook in particular, is that the more vulnerable and honest I am, the more legitimate connections I make. And I have made many, with people whom I cherish and who I otherwise would never have had the pleasure of knowing in any way at all.

I know, being “real” seems like a no brainer, right? Not necessarily.

In this age, many of us have lost entirely a sense of who we are, or are so intimidated by the edited images all around, and the judgements that fly like deadly bullets across the inter webs, that we are afraid to be ourselves, uncensored and raw. Instead of being brave enough to be candid , we often choose instead to hide behind walls of fantasy and inadvertently help generate this culture of illusion.

It’s understandable. The world is a big, scary place, and the people in it are often unkind. If we follow some simple common sense guidelines, however, we can not only weed out the bad energy, but encourage the good. We can make the time we spend on social media meaningful, positive and even healing.

Here’s how;

1) Be kind.

This is paramount. (In life as well as on the internet.) Before we “say” anything, we can refer back to the old and very sound dictate:

If you propose to speak, always ask yourself, is it true, is it necessary, is it kind?

(There is some debate about the source of this quote, often incorrectly attributed to the Buddha, but regardless of its origin, it is undeniably wise.)

2) Don’t judge.

When others post crazy making stuff, we don’t need to respond. We have no idea what that person is going through, or what prompted them to put up naked pictures of themselves in a spaghetti eating contest, but if it’s really offensive, we can just go ahead and block them.

I know, blocking people is inherently judgmental, but if you don’t have anything nice to say…

As for the people with whom we choose to remain friends, we should always maintain a light hearted attitude, even when they go off the rails and start posting pro Donald Trump and Monsanto memes.

3) Speak, don’t shout.

As for our own posts, we should feel free to put up things that are meaningful to us, but extremism is never appreciated. It’s terrific that we’ve decided to go vegan and thereby save the world, but we must understand that not everyone is ready to let go of that tasty burger.

4) Be authentic.

We are most interesting, believe it or not, when we are simply ourselves. It’s fun to take selfies on days when we feel pretty, but pictures can convey a lot more than “pretty” if we allow them to.

That goes for everything. We can reminisce about that 12 course meal we had at the most expensive restaurant in town, but we should also mention that the next day we had a fistful of candy corn for breakfast.

5) Try to be more positive than negative.

Even when things look or feel awful, there is usually some way to find a silver lining. The act of trying to find it on social media has a way of becoming a self fulfilling  prophecy.

Of course, we can’t always be Little Miss Suzy Sunshine, and if we are genuinely depressed, stressed, grieving, sad, or lonely we should be able to simply feel it and say it. These are some of the times having built up a network of good virtual friends really pays off—you’ll suddenly find lots of compassionate people rooting for you.

6) Be supportive.

There is a tendency to feel jealous when a friend whose life already seemed perfect receives a 10 carat engagement ring from her Henry Cavill-looking boyfriend at the top of the Eiffel Tower. But we must remember, just as with our own best images, posts like these never represent the totality of anyone’s experience.

“Henry Cavill” could be a self-absorbed layabout who refuses to get a job for the next 20 years—or he could be a legitimately nice guy.

Either way, rather than succumb to envy or speculation, it feels better if we can simply offer sincere congratulations.

This is even more important when your friends are going through difficult or confusing times. Kind words carry a lot of weight, and it only takes a moment to offer them. Instead of being frustrated by someone’s whining or pity party, give them some love.

Don’t worry, it will always bounce back to us in the end.

7) Don’t overshare

Admittedly, this is the one I struggle with the most.

I remember one over the top post I wrote when I was brand new to social media, about an unfortunate trip I was forced to make to the OBGYN. My sister politely informed me that no one was interested in hearing about my “female problems.” Too true.

Generally, if it wouldn’t come up in a normal conversation, don’t put it in a public forum online. That’s what private messaging is for.

If we can consistently manage to be online what boils down to simply being a good person, we will attract other good people like Monarchs to a butterfly bush. Over time, we will have built a solid community of souls just a click away, with whom we can talk, laugh, cry, mull and celebrate.

Of course, we can never forget that the people who are physically present with us; our spouses, children, neighbors, teachers and flesh and blood friends should always take priority.

There is no substitute for the messy, beautiful, annoying and inimitable humans that we interact with on a daily basis, nor should there be. These are the folks that exist outside of the rabbit hole, where all the juiciest and most satisfying parts of life is lived.





Author: Erica Leibrandt

Editor: Renée Picard

Image: CIA DE FOTO at Flickr

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