Social media makes us approachable

posted by Russ, July 23 in technology with tags , , , ,

Social Media Image

Photo credit Matt Hamm

I have been thinking a lot lately about how social media has changed how we communicate. But not in the way you might think. It is obvious that sites like Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter have changed the game, but not only have these platforms made everyone connected in simple, straight forward and immediate way, I think they have also made the majority of people more accessible and approachable. Of course this has some obvious downsides like spam and stalkers, but now our worlds are much smaller and people who would have otherwise been unable to be contacted can now be located and contacted in less than a minute. Obviously, this has downsides too, but I’m focusing on the positive aspects. In a way, it has leveled the playing field for everyone since there are all sorts of people from all walks of life and of varying degrees of success all using these same platforms of communication.

Every day I take in quite a bit of media, including blogs, Twitter feeds, news, and also good old fashioned books and magazines. In the past (before online social media), there were distinct lines of separation between people and all the different medias of the time. There were publishers and consumers, writers and readers, and most everyone belonged to some group or category, whether it was based on their career, what they read, or what they did for work. But now, no matter how we fit into the picture, most anyone who does anything online is just a tiny piece of this great social media puzzle. From CEOs to cubicle drones, Hollywood stars to high school geeks, once we starting tweeting or reconnecting with friends on Facebook, we’re all in the same game.

I’ve had this thought several times before, but it all came together for me today. What prompted it is this book I’m currently reading, Born to Run. In brief, the book is about running, the Tarahumara people of Mexico, ultra marathoners, and the art of running. So as I’m reading, I note the different people the author mentions, then it hits me… This is a non fiction book, I wonder if I can get some background on these people online? Next think you know I find the Facebook page of one person in the book, the Twitter feed of another, and the blog of another! I mean, ten years ago could you read about someone in a book, and then go find their personal ramblings online? Of course not! There was barely even an internet then.

Another book I’ve recently read is Scott Stoll’s Falling Uphill. In the past I would have never thought twice about how to even contact someone who had written a book that I’ve quite enjoyed reading, but after a blog post I wrote about the book several weeks ago, he’s now following me on Twitter!

Chris Guillebeau, internet rock star and non conformist, found a post of mine where I linked to him, and he sent me a direct email message thanking me. (Side note, he replies to everyone who messages him, whether on his site or on Twitter.)

I mean seriously, when I was a kid it would take some time to work up the courage to send a letter to my favorite basketball players to ask for autographs (not to mention the time it took to find the contact info and write the letter by hand), and if I received a response within a month or two I was ecstatic. Now, I could send Shaquille O’Neal a tweet and he’d probably reply to me in less than 24 hours.

Even something as simple as a comment thread on a blog can bring together different people who have never met for random dialogue. This simple interaction is something that would have been virtually impossible years ago. There are blogs that I follow and comment on where this happens regularly, and there are people online who I’ve never met or even spoken to who I would consider friends.

There are a million examples to illustrate these points, and most certainly there are downsides too. I’m sure that some of this online interaction has become a substitute for just walking outside and chatting with people the old fashioned way. Hell, I’m guilty of this too. Have we lost some of our innocence in this? Is it a good thing to be a little nervous to contact someone who is very successful, or to approach one of our idols? Or is it good that the playing field is now even, and that even if it’s a perverse sort of approachability, we’re all equals if we want to be? There are plenty of people who don’t get this online interaction and are leery of it. My girlfriend doesn’t quite buy into it yet. And I know there are plenty of others out there who don’t as well. To many people, there is something about being “friends” with someone you’ve never met, or acting like you know someone based on their daily ramblings, that can certainly be a little weird.

The internet, and especially social media, is a weird beast. It takes normal everyday people, brings some of them extraordinary success, rockets others to superstar status overnight, while allowing them to still be your neighbor in relative anonymity, and without the paparazzi. Hell, Dooce was just named number 26 on the list of most influential women of all time.

Originally posted on Thursday, July 23rd, 2009 at 6:22 AM .

2 Responses to “Social media makes us approachable”

  1. Grace says:

    When I was 12 years old or so, before my family decided to try out that "Free 10 hours on AOL" cd for the first time, I remember ripping out this penpal ad from my friends' teen magazine. I think I paid a fee of $10 for two penpals the first time. One was from GA and another was from OH. I was so hungry for interaction with people from outside of my world – people with vastly different lives, perspectives, experiences… I would have paid any amount to do that (that is, any amount that is possible with my meager preteen cash flow).

    I love the interconnectivity that the internet has given us. I love that celebrities can connect with us directly and make gossip hounds look like idiots. I love that I can randomly stumble across a blog someone from San Diego and hear about his thoughts and travels. 🙂 I do NOT love that old ex-boyfriends can track me down on Facebook, but Facebook is a whole different story in my opinion.

    I don't think the internet could ever replace the face-to-face relationships that we have, but it's still pretty incredible how much bigger and more accessible our world suddenly is, as compared to 15 or so years ago.

  2. Russ says:

    That's so true. I hadn't remembered the pen pal thing! I think I may have done that too. I've always been curious about people on the other side of the world, which is why me and the internet are a good fit 🙂

    There are plenty of people online who I have never met, but who I feel connected to simply by reading what they write. I know there are many out there who feel the same, but I do also know that there are others who still don't feel quite right about it. But I think eventually more people will become comfortable with it, and social networking will find it's place somewhere in the middle of the road.

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