How many times have you heard it? Technological advancements are making the world a smaller place. Makes sense. I can set up a teleconference with people in Asia, Russia, and India in a few minutes. I can fly to Thailand in less than a day. I can send a text or instant message around the globe in less than one second. Yes, that gives me a feeling of proximity to these people and places that could only be imagined less than 50 years ago, but proximity is not the same as closeness.
British journalist William Dalrymple, the author of Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India*, describes this beautifully:
Today, we live with this illusion that we know the world. The reality, of course, is…that there’s huge parts of the world which we know absolutely nothing about…All over the world you have this veneer of globalization and yet you’ve only got to rub away that surface veneer, and you find huge, vast differences.
This “veneer of globalization” was an incredible reminder for me. The illusion he describes is firmly set in my mind. If left to my own devices, I begin to think I know the world and that my narrow experiences and understandings should apply to everyone. I gravitate to people who share my views and experiences. It’s an easy and comfortable place to live, but not a place in which true growth and connection will occur. How amazing to realize this, set the illusion aside, and start seeing the world for what it is — a chaotic playground of diverse mysteries and opinions to be explored, unlocked, pondered, and possibly understood. This lesson (or reminder) can be applied to all areas of our lives, even social media.
I have filled my social media community with people that are similar to me. There are websites and tools that have helped me do this. Since the dawn of time, like-minded people have gathered around common experiences and beliefs. It’s what we do, and great things have been (and will continue to be) accomplished this way. But history shows us that these like-minded communities can also become segregated pockets of distrust and xenophobia, or just a bunch of people saying the same thing to each other over and over again. Raise your hand if 50% of the tweets in your timeline are about how to engage customers with social media.
I believe that we’re only scratching the surface of the power of social media if we use it to congregate in comfortable communities of sameness. We’re perpetuating the illusion of global connection and applying more layers to the veneer of globalization. I’m on a quest to tear down the illusion, strip off the veneer, and start truly connecting with people (similar and different). I understand how hard it is, but it’s important, and it’s worth it.
What does this mean? It means I will no longer be discouraged to follow that guy with a Confederate Flag in his Twitter background, that woman whose bio says she’s a gun-toting granny who wishes Sarah Palin was her daughter, or the teenager who thinks tattoos are the art form of the 21st century. Bring on the diversity. I might not agree, and I may never understand, but at least I listened, and maybe even made a new kind of connection in the process.
* Quote from William Dalrymple is from an interview on NPR’s Morning Edition: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=127984436