I think very highly of Leo Babouta and his essays at Zen Habits – which is why I was surprised to find myself of two minds reading one on connection.
He wrote (http://zenhabits.net/connect/): We all long for genuine human connections, and even in a busy life with lots of people around us, these genuine connections can be hard to find. We socialize online, but that’s not very genuine (why I quit Facebook). We work with people, but often that’s task-oriented and not human connection-oriented. We might have family and friends in our lives, but when we are busy or distracted by the online world, those connections might fade. We are social creatures, and so it’s natural that we look to socialize online. But it’s a superficial socializing, with a comment here and there, a “like”, maybe a message or two to those we’re close with. It lacks the richness of a one-on-one tea session or workout or walk in the park.
Is socializing online not genuine? I’m not as sure as Leo seems to be. It’s different, yes, of course. But does “different” mean “less”?
I agree that Facebook isn’t always a real connection. But is it less than I get from making small talk anywhere else? I think it’s the same level in a different medium.
I don’t think it’s superficial to know what’s going on with my friends and family. No, of course that isn’t the same as a personal conversation. But I don’t think “different than” or even “less than” means “unimportant.”
This is the same kind of argument people made about the telephone when it was first put in – about email – and now about social – that those conversations are problematic.
The only difference I do see is that Facebook can get a lot more addictive than other types of small talk. There’s so much less effort required. You don’t have to do anything at all – not go out, not offer anything in return – and yet you can surf through other people’s updates. That’s tempting, and not in a good way. That’s why I’ve moved away from Facebook lately. I don’t feel much like sharing that way anymore. (It’s a long story and not entirely my own to tell.)
But I think it would all do us well if we were to try to stop defining the parameters quite so much. When I think of the best moments of connection I’ve had this weekend, they haven’t been standard at all. Running with an old friend; dancing in an airfield; a hug from a tiny person; getting screamed at. Far more social media than Leo would approve. And not a single one-on-one tea session. But all reminded me what I love about my life and why I’m so grateful for the people in it. And that, at the end of the day, is connection. However you get it.