Can we be better strangers?

What are you doing with your social media network? That’s not a rhetorical question. I want you to think about what you are actually accomplishing by being connected to friends, followers and colleagues.

William Shakespeare wrote:

All the world’s a stage,

And all the men and women merely players:

They have their exits and their entrances;

And one man in time plays many parts.

We live in such an amazing era of connectivity. Sometimes I can't help but wonder if it's all just a theater performance with most of us trying to figure out what cue to enter on and, more importantly, how to deliver our lines when we hit our mark.

But then there are times when I am in awe of the sheer power of the era in which we live. Not too long ago, I was sitting in an airport waiting for an airplane to take me the 1,000 miles back to my home. It’s the type of trip we take for granted now because it is so easy and quick, no matter how much we complain about airlines and airports. While waiting, I decided to catch up on some messages in my G-Mail account. I forgot that when I logged in, my G-Chat would be turned on — that was until someone from Boston reached out to me via that service.

They were having a difficult time because of getting caught up in a rumor about a local business and, despite having reasonably good sources, were now in trouble with the business owner because they’d helped spread the rumor via a blog post. There are so many ways in which this story truly lays out the stage upon which we are all playing these days. The rumor was spreading faster because of my colleague’s blog post — faster than it ever could have in years past. The business owner was facing problems because of the rumor spreading so fast that he was unsure how to recover. There’s a quote attributed to Winston Churchill that goes, “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to put its pants on.” And that was in Churchill’s time!

So this colleague of mine was reeling from what had happened and, seeing I was online and knowing my background, decided to reach out for help. He reached out in his instant of need, via a free service provided by a company that has made billions of dollars by upending the standard business model. He could reach me because I was on a computer small enough to fit on my lap and connected to the Internet via a wireless technology that allows communication at speeds unheard of just a few years ago.

Perhaps the most startling of all, however, was that this colleague reached out to me with a sincere cry for help even though we have never met. We know each other via Twitter, we have seen pictures of each other, we are connected on LinkedIn, and we have arranged one phone call just to get to know each other a little better. But we are basically nothing more than connections in a vast network of people tuned in to each other via technology.

I’m not suggesting that the plea for help should not have been made, and I’m happy that I was able to offer some counsel and comfort to my colleague in his moment of need. I haven’t heard how the situation he was dealing with ended, but that’s irrelevant to this post. My point is that I was there when someone needed me. I was there for a person I’ve never met in real life and I was able to help.

So, I ask you again: What are you doing with your social media network? Are you using it to its full potential? Are you seeking counsel and finding solace? Are you paying it forward in some way by helping others? Are you tweeting, chatting and updating your way to greatness either by providing or being provided help when it is needed most? The Shakespeare quote above was from As You Like It — and perhaps that 16th century bard was just ahead of his time. After all, As You Like It also includes the line: “I do desire we may be better strangers.”

Oh, William, so do I.

(Shakespeare photo courtesy of Wikipedia; cables photo courtesy of Phrenologist’s Flickr strea.)

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17 comments on “Can we be better strangers?

  1. Great post once again, Ari. You do a fantastic job at making everyone slow down and think.

    I have a similar situation with a fellow PRSSA student and now college graduate from Philadelphia. We connected on Twitter through PRSSA connections, met in Rome, Italy while we were both on separate study abroad trips, and continue to stay in touch via Gchat, Twitter, and Facebook. I’ve met her once, and we frequently turn to each other for advice on relationships, life and the PR world from a young professional’s perspective.

    I don’t have many relationships like this, but I do know that my social networks have become increasingly important to my life in the last few months. With so many good friends and connections graduating and moving away, I rely on social media to stay in touch. This may be a good or a bad thing, we’ll see how it plays out… but for now, I cherish the opportunities that social media gives to connect with others no matter how far the distance or relationship that we have.

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    • Thanks for the comment Angela. Your generation has a wonderful opportunity to stick together with college buddies like no generation ever has. I hope it’s used to its full potential.

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  2. Pingback: Tweets that mention Can we be better strangers? « Here Comes Later -- Topsy.com

  3. I agree, great post! Every once in awhile I have a moment that just makes me in awe over what technology has done for me and the people surrounding me. It is amazing how helpful “acquaintances” can be when you need help, even when they have not met you in person, or do not even plan on meeting you in person. It is just a person helping another person.

    It is funny because when I first had email, I was ecstatic anytime I received one. I didn’t care what it was, who it was from, I just loved having that connection. Then it was Instant Message. Nowadays it is a Facebook wall posts or Twitter replies/retweets (at least for me). I wonder what will be next.

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    • Matt, I remember the first time I was at a seminar as a journalist and some guy started talking about this thing called “The Internet” and how it was spawning “The World Wide Web” and it was going to revolutionize our lives. Some were skeptical, but I took up the offer to log onto this cool new technology — via a 28K modem, I might add — to test out a computer program called “Netscape.” I was hooked, but I never could have imagined how quickly things would change!

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    • Ah, yes, Ari, better strangers, indeed. I think we first “met” because of our shared names, but I’ve met others named Ari online that I have not stayed as connected with. So, while technology brings people together, perhaps it is true that who they are when they use that technology is what keeps them together.

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  4. Elegant connecting of dots and of human nature across centuries. Not often we see Shakespeare, Churchill and G-Chat in the same essay . . . as well-linked as we are.

    What clicks into place is that even those who aren’t a literary legend or political giant now can have wide, meaningful impact as a thought leader, an influential, a ‘better stranger.’

    The updraft from your post also carries me on a flight of fanciful imagining about how many followers William would have . . . and how many FB’ers would ‘like’ Winston.

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    • Thanks Alan — having my writing called “elegant” certainly puts a feather (from a quill pen) in my cap. It is amusing to ponder how the great literary giants and political leaders of the past would fare in this modern era of soundbite journalism and no-holds-barred political mudslinging. My guess is not long. 🙂

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  5. I firmly believe it’s important to help others when you can in life, and this translates seamlessly to the social Web. It may seem surprising at first that someone you never met would reach out to you online for help. But you are a good person, and that comes across through how you interact online. So even though your friend doesn’t really “know” you, your online interactions made him feel comfortable enough to confide in you. That’s the beauty (and kinda scary part) of the social Web. We can establish relatively deep relationships with people who we have never physically met.

    Maybe the social Web will allow us to read each others’ minds next year. 😉

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    • Thanks for the nice comment Nikki. By the way, I fixed your typo and just deleted the second comment where you corrected your typing.

      As for social media allowing us to read each other’s minds, that’s a little scary. Half the time I’m not sure even I want to know what I’m thinking, let alone having others hear those thoughts. 🙂

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  6. It might be considered borderline creepy some of the relationships I’ve developed via social media. One PR professional became my unofficial mentor after I started following his PR blog and Twitter feed. It started with me reaching out for internship opportunities in Southern California, where he lives. We’ve maintained that relationship for more than two years now. He sends me job leads, gives me interview advice, he’s proofed documents for me in a pinch and sometimes acts as a human thesaurus when I have writer’s block. Someone once said “the goal of developing social media relationships is to meet in person.” I forgot who, but I absolutely believe it.

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  7. Really enjoyed your “Better Strangers?” piece via PR Daily today, Ari.

    Here — just for fun — check out my friend David Ippolito’s hilarious new Facebook Song on YouTube

    Subtitle: “What the F*ck Is Farmville?!”

    Smile!

    Laura
    press@thatguitarman.com

    Like

  8. Loving this connectivity conversation and have met some fabulous people across the US and Europe with whom I regularly engage, learn and share Social Media developments. Its the old adage that the more you put into something the more you will get out and social networking is also similar to traditional networking – it follows the ethos of ‘give, ask and thank’ – whether this be introductions, referrals or information. Our blog at Quest http://www.questprblog.com is a learning and sharing platform for maximising Social Media and features guest posts from people I have never met. I just wish there was more time to engage with even more people!

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    • Thanks for the comment Sharon. I agree the lack of time is the only thing limiting my connecting with more and more people around the world. And some folks say social networking on the computer makes people less social. Rubbish!

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  9. All of Social Media is just another path, to communicate. It’s more of “communication controlled” you can schedule tweets, block people on Facebook, only hear from things you “like”. For businesses or people, it’s all how you utilize it, it won’t give you great customer service, it won’t give you more customers. You can learn how to utilize this tool to leverage customer service or more customers. I live my life plugged in, I’m the director of social network marketing for a company.

    I see huge value of the traditional social sites, or strict business sits like http://www.stanfordwhoswho.com

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