This past summer, I attended a writers/speakers conference in Grand Rapids. Throughout the two days duration of the conference, we were able to schedule one-on-one conversations with authors, speakers, editors, and publishers. I was privileged to talk with 5 mentors. Three of the 5 were what you’d typically expect from such brief professional encounters — a little banter back and forth, and then some much appreciated encouragement given to the aspiring writer. I love the one-on-ones. Looking into someone’s eyes and telling your story is significant. Having them look back, nod their head, and squeeze your hand is powerful and validating.
There were 2 one-on-ones that stand out from that weekend. In one segment, I was meeting up with a women that had been my mentor at a conference 2 years prior. She remembered me, and the conversation flowed easily. By the time our session was over, we were talking about our personal lives as well as professional. I have since spent some time in her home, becoming friends. The other one-on-one time slot was close to the end of the conference, and I was meeting up with a women whom I’d never met, however, I had read her book and I “followed” her on social media. Again, such an easy conversation; we just seemed to “hit it off.” And lucky for me, her next appointee was a “no show” so we were able to take twice as long as scheduled. I am no longer just “following” her online, she, too has become a friend.
I knew both of these ladies via Facebook and Instagram for a couple of years, but that type of important face-to-face interaction can’t be duplicated on social media. I don’t believe I would ever really have considered these two ladies my people if it had not been for the actual in-person encounters. Social media are great for developing community, but for belonging and real connection, there is no substitute for meeting real people in a real place. Yes, I was connected to these women via Facebook, but the real connection came only when we met face-to-face.
When we look at our ‘friends’ on Facebook, how many would we feel comfortable contacting in a time of crisis? During an emergency, are the ‘friends’ on Instagram the ones we call? If given the choice of attending an actual social gathering or staying home and chatting with ‘friends’ online, which do we prefer?
Social media may seem like the perfect way to make and maintain friendships, but I think research will show that face-to-face interaction is essential for truly authentic relationships and that ‘shares, selfies, and likes’ are no replacement for the bonding that takes place over food, drink, and the sharing of stories.
Up until recent history, the size of anyone’s social network was based upon actually forming relationships with people. Spending time with them, getting to know them, and allowing them to get to know you. And although Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram allow us to interact with many more people, it seems that these social connections don’t translate into bonding as strong close friends. Those people don’t really become our people. They tend to stay in the category of acquaintances.
And seriously, who calls an acquaintance when your dad dies, or you’re feeling blue, or the dog runs away.
I have some family and a few close friends I would call in a time of crisis. Too few actually. I need to do better at cultivating those face-to-face friendships. How about you? Let’s not settle for acquaintances, virtual friends, let’s fight for real people.
We need real people in our lives. We need arms that can wrap around us. And feet that can kick us in the pants (when necessary.) And eyes that can look into our souls.
We all need real people.
Don’t stay home! Go! Get out there and meet people. You never know when you might need that hug.