More on that Site and Connections

Today, Leo Babauta, over on Zen Habits, has a great (and timely) post on connection:

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.</p>

So true and this hits on a theme from my More of Less post earlier this week, particularly these two points from my favorite Merlin Mann post:

  • avoid anything that feels like fake sincerity;
  • put a handful of real people near the center of everything.

It’s about choosing genuine, real relationships and connections over manufactured connections and sharing. Two things Facebook has built a business on and thrived because they made it so easy to make (and re-make) connections. (Not to mention using those connections and sharing to target you with better advertising.) But is “easy” the best way to handle relationships?

Sure, some relationships and connections should be easy and simple (aka weak ties), but those aren’t the relationships you want to know everything about via over sharing  They should be random and fleeting, like running into someone you used to know while shopping. Or high school/college reunions. Or any other way we used to re-connect with people who fell out of our life.

Sean Bonner’s recent post reflecting on leaving Facebook hit on this:

In 2010 I wrote that Facebook made me feel like a shitty friend, in part because it was maintaining (or recreating) connections with people that under any other circumstance would have fallen out of my life. That kid I sat next to in one class in 10th grade. That girl I had a crush on for a few months in 9th grade. That guy that is friends with one of my cousins that I met one time at a wedding or something. Without Facebook normal people in these situations never would have stayed in touch, with Facebook it was nice to connect but we never really had anything to say to one another other than “oh so nice to reconnect” then just flooding each other with random status updates. 100% of those people that I had very weak ties to I lost touch with. But I also no longer feel bad about not caring about their updates, I don’t feel bad that I don’t have more to say to them, and I don’t feel bad that they aren’t a part of my life. So I’m not convinced those loses are really a bad thing.

Facebook makes it easy to re-connect these weak ties (through the friend finder, newsfeed discovery, and reciprocal friending) and guilt us into feeling like they are as important as any other relationship. In fact, by default Facebook treats these ties as if they are just as important. Yes, they give you tools to modify who and what shows up in your newsfeed and they do make an attempt to show more updates from people you interact with on Facebook, but in the end all items are treated with the same visual weight. Every post is a reminder that you are or were (as Sean puts it) a shitty friend.

Real, long term relationships take work and a ton of effort. I think Facebook gives people an excuse to not put in the effort because we see virtually everything in a person’s life via status updates, photos and over sharing  There’s less of a reason to reach out to people, meet for coffee, go out for drinks, or make an effort to travel to see someone. Note I said “less”, not “no”… that’s where the effort and work comes into the relationship.

The key with connections and relationships is to:

  • be OK with endings
  • be OK with change (people change, especially with greater distance between "knowing" and "re-knowing" someone)
  • treat weak ties like weak ties
  • and borrowing from Merlin, put a handful of real people near the center of everything.

Yes, this is hard. Yes, I need to do a much better job at this. We all do. I am up for the challenge, though.

Equally important to maintaining connections is to be open to new connections. Leo’s connection post has five tips on creating genuine connections:

  1. Be open to random connections. (Even if they don't last a lifetime, they can brighten the current moment.)
  2. Make time for the important relationships.
  3. Be open to who they are. (Notice your expectations of the other person and let them go. Be curious.)
  4. Be open to what happens. (Don't focus so much on your agenda, that you ignore the organic connection.)
  5. Be open about yourself. (Be the real you, not just the "good" side. Be vulnerable.)

So great. Definitely head over and read the rest of his post.

How do you handle (creating new and maintaining old) relationships in our more social/connected world? Please share in the comments!

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