We are experiencing a communication breakdown.
It’s kind of weird to say this when our society has never been more connected. Social networks and social media outlets keep us in touch with each other and in tune with the world. It’s not only fast, it’s instantaneous.
But mere accessibility gives us only a feeling of interconnectivity. It does nothing for, and says nothing about, the quality of social interactions we are investing our time into. Despite our age of global connectivity, people are actually pretty disconnected from one another.
Besides, most of the time we spend on Facebook (40 minutes every day for the average American) isn’t actually spent socializing. It’s spent scrolling, browsing, and clicking. Stalking. It’s unsocial.
It’s time to evaluate the role of social media in our lives, and to take steps to build healthy connections.
IT’S NOT WHAT YOU KNOW, IT’S WHO YOU KNOW
Certainly who you know matters in life. Some jobs are only accessible through your connections to others. Many opportunities will arise simply from those around you.
However, there is something missing from the old adage. It is incredibly important how you know someone and how you interact with him or her. Knowing someone is not simply sending out a friend request, or accepting one. It’s a dynamic process that requires work.
After all, people are more complex than social profiles.
One major problem of networking is how it alters, compresses, and simplifies who we are. We are not the mere sum of our pictures, comments, and ramblings (I hope).
Face-to-face, real-world interactions are the only way of getting to know someone, to actually connect with them. Physical interaction is so important to connect with someone.
SO . . . WE SHOULD ALL HANG OUT MORE?
Of course, a healthy social life includes plenty of interactions with others—in coffee shops, walking down the street, in the park, out for beers, or on the couch.
We are all pretty good at hanging out still.
On the other hand, where we are most lacking is in the more traditional sense of community. We don’t have nearly the attachment to our neighbors and neighborhoods. We hardly contribute to our communities.
We hardly contribute because there isn’t much there. Sure, you have neighbors. But the majority of us don’t have regular barbecues, neighborhood forums, clean ups, or gatherings of any sort with them.
Rather, we just live next to each other, and occasionally wave hello.
IT’S TIME TO GET INVOLVED
There are so many ways to bring people together.
The important part is that you focus on real, face-to-face interactions. Sure, use social media to inform people about what you’re up to and when to meet, but make sure there is value placed on actually being present. The people who show will be more likely to stick around and keep contributing.
Not to mention, something extraordinary happens when you get people together to talk—especially about topics that affect their community. Thoughtfulness and creativity almost burst forth when you’re in this type of environment. It’s a process of deliberation, where people use each other’s ideas to adjust and shape their own in conversation that incorporates different perspectives, backgrounds, and angles.
Where you’ll really start to feel strong connections with your neighbors is when you create with others. Try a community garden, with everything from honeybees to fruit trees, and a place to cook and eat. Or maybe work toward installing new benches along busy roads, or revitalizing newspaper stands for making the neighborhood a little more friendly and beautiful. How about a giant street mural, where everyone from young children to grandparents help in the design before grabbing a paintbrush?
The key to any of these projects at the core is community involvement. I’m talking about participation at every single level. From brainstorming and designing to organization and actually doing the project—whether it be a fantastic piece of community art or the construction of a community space, it’s important to get everyone involved.
There is more to it than just volunteering, or getting people together once. It’s about creating something that lasts, where relationships can continue to grow.
There are organizations like Portland Oregon’s City Repair that help communities make these projects happen. They use the term placemaking:
Placemaking is a multi-faceted approach to the planning, design, and management of public spaces. Placemaking capitalizes on a local community's assets, inspiration, and potential, with the intention of creating public spaces that promote people's health, happiness, and well-being.
The organization helps motivate communities, create plans of action, and provide technical assistance for more complicated building projects. They have a wealth of knowledge and experience that incorporates green building principles with a passion for art.
They, however, aren’t there to take over a project, just to provide enough support to make it happen. After all, the point is to bring people together through these creative processes.
So, get out there. Start a conversation. Start building your community.