August 19, 2009

Bulk view

Social media changes real-life conversations

Memnon Anon sent me a link to Matt Zimmerman’s post “Social media has made me boring“, which got me thinking because I have almost the complete opposite experience.

My parents’ Facebook updates and forum posts provide fodder for weekly chats and let me keep up to date across timezones. I feel much more in touch with my friends who use social media, and we have plenty of things to talk about because I get a better picture of their interests. When we talk, we can jump past the “What did you do?” to “How did you feel about that?” I can find out when they’re having a bad day, what they care about, what they enjoy. And this works for people in the same city, too. Blogs, tweets, and other updates give me deeper insights into people than I could find out in five minutes or even an hour.

Social media lets us take conversational shortcuts. I might start telling a story that I’ve told on my blog, and the person I’m talking to says, “yeah, I’ve read that”–so then I skip past the introduction and go to the parts I hadn’t gotten around to writing down, or that I’m still figuring out. Sometimes I might tell a story in response to a question a friend asks, and then realize that was worth blogging about. There are always too many stories to write down, and conversation and interaction brings out even more.

I still organize get-togethers over tea, dinner, or Skype because I like seeing the interaction between my friends. But social media is what lets me develop good relationships with people I might not otherwise be able to keep in touch with as often, and I really like it.

So here’s what I think the trick is:

Get over that hitch. You know how you might feel disappointed/interrupted when someone says, “I’ve read that on your blog”? Practice your happy-do until your first reaction is “Awww, thanks for reading!” and then go on with asking people what they thought, or jumping to the part you really wanted to talk about. Make your conversations less about “What did you do this summer?” and more about “What did you like about it? What did you learn? How did that change you?” and other deeper questions. Even if you’ve already posted a long, thoughtful reflection on your blog, you’ll learn even more through the conversation, and through connecting it with other people’s experiences.

If you blog, there are a number of mental mind-shifts that are useful. That’s one of them. Another one is to get used to the idea that people may know more about you than you know about them, which is really weird at the beginning. People feel uncomfortable when other people have the edge in terms of knowledge. But you can flip that around, be flattered that someone’s taken the time to learn about you and keep up to date with you, and then use the conversation time to get to know about them.

Social media changes conversations, and I think that’s awesome.