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.)