More on that Site and Connections

Today, Leo Babauta, over on Zen Habits, has a great (and timely) post on connection:

We socialize online, but that’s not very genuine (why I quit Facebook). We work with people, but often that’s task-oriented and not human connection-oriented. We might have family and friends in our lives, but when we are busy or distracted by the online world, those connections might fade.

So true and this hits on a theme from my More of Less post earlier this week, particularly these two points from my favorite Merlin Mann post:

  • avoid anything that feels like fake sincerity;
  • put a handful of real people near the center of everything.

It’s about choosing genuine, real relationships and connections over manufactured connections and sharing. Two things Facebook has built a business on and thrived because they made it so easy to make (and re-make) connections. (Not to mention using those connections and sharing to target you with better advertising.) But is “easy” the best way to handle relationships?

Sure, some relationships and connections should be easy and simple (aka weak ties), but those aren’t the relationships you want to know everything about via over sharing  They should be random and fleeting, like running into someone you used to know while shopping. Or high school/college reunions. Or any other way we used to re-connect with people who fell out of our life.

Sean Bonner’s recent post reflecting on leaving Facebook hit on this:

In 2010 I wrote that Facebook made me feel like a shitty friend, in part because it was maintaining (or recreating) connections with people that under any other circumstance would have fallen out of my life. That kid I sat next to in one class in 10th grade. That girl I had a crush on for a few months in 9th grade. That guy that is friends with one of my cousins that I met one time at a wedding or something. Without Facebook normal people in these situations never would have stayed in touch, with Facebook it was nice to connect but we never really had anything to say to one another other than “oh so nice to reconnect” then just flooding each other with random status updates. 100% of those people that I had very weak ties to I lost touch with. But I also no longer feel bad about not caring about their updates, I don’t feel bad that I don’t have more to say to them, and I don’t feel bad that they aren’t a part of my life. So I’m not convinced those loses are really a bad thing.

Facebook makes it easy to re-connect these weak ties (through the friend finder, newsfeed discovery, and reciprocal friending) and guilt us into feeling like they are as important as any other relationship. In fact, by default Facebook treats these ties as if they are just as important. Yes, they give you tools to modify who and what shows up in your newsfeed and they do make an attempt to show more updates from people you interact with on Facebook, but in the end all items are treated with the same visual weight. Every post is a reminder that you are or were (as Sean puts it) a shitty friend.

Real, long term relationships take work and a ton of effort. I think Facebook gives people an excuse to not put in the effort because we see virtually everything in a person’s life via status updates, photos and over sharing  There’s less of a reason to reach out to people, meet for coffee, go out for drinks, or make an effort to travel to see someone. Note I said “less”, not “no”… that’s where the effort and work comes into the relationship.

The key with connections and relationships is to:

  • be OK with endings
  • be OK with change (people change, especially with greater distance between “knowing” and “re-knowing” someone)
  • treat weak ties like weak ties
  • and borrowing from Merlin, put a handful of real people near the center of everything.

Yes, this is hard. Yes, I need to do a much better job at this. We all do. I am up for the challenge, though.

Equally important to maintaining connections is to be open to new connections. Leo’s connection post has five tips on creating genuine connections:

  1. Be open to random connections. (Even if they don’t last a lifetime, they can brighten the current moment.)
  2. Make time for the important relationships.
  3. Be open to who they are. (Notice your expectations of the other person and let them go. Be curious.)
  4. Be open to what happens. (Don’t focus so much on your agenda, that you ignore the organic connection.)
  5. Be open about yourself. (Be the real you, not just the “good” side. Be vulnerable.)

So great. Definitely head over and read the rest of his post.

How do you handle (creating new and maintaining old) relationships in our more social/connected world? Please share in the comments!

More of Less

I’ve been getting this overwhelming feeling that there’s just too much “stuff” in my life. Too many status updates, too many emails, too many unread RSS items, too many photos to look at, etc etc. You could say the same about movies, TV shows, books, music, clutter… and on and on.

We’re doing it to ourselves, really. Technology, while making our lives easier and faster in many ways, also makes it very easy to pack more in to our lives. And the most challenging part is most of this new stuff is digital, so there’s very little physical cost to adding more. (Just imagine how much space 100 GBs of music would take up on your shelf!?) The only cost is our time and attention, and most of us are really bad at protecting that and keeping it focused on the right things.

All of this “stuff” also makes boredom and downtime less common. Our brains no longer get to take breaks, we no longer take time to enjoy silence, ponder big questions, or even focus on only one thing. Instead we try to multi-task, constantly check our news feeds, check in to every place we go, take photos of our food… you know the deal.

Scott Belsky hit on this big time in his post What Happened to Downtime? The Extinction of Deep Thinking & Sacred Space:

Interruption-free space is sacred. Yet, in the digital era we live in, we are losing hold of the few sacred spaces that remain untouched by email, the internet, people, and other forms of distraction. Our cars now have mobile phone integration and a thousand satellite radio stations. When walking from one place to another, we have our devices streaming data from dozens of sources. Even at our bedside, we now have our iPads with heaps of digital apps and the world’s information at our fingertips.

Belsky ties this into basic human needs:

The need to be connected is, in fact, very basic in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the psychological theory that explains the largest and most fundamental human desires. Our need for a sense of belonging comes right after physical safety. We thrive on friendship, family, and the constant affirmation of our existence and relevance. Our self-esteem is largely a product of our interactions with others.

And how the digital world now does this connection in real time:

It is now possible to always feel loved and cared for, thanks to the efficiency of our “comment walls” on Facebook and seamless connection with everyone we’ve ever known. Your confidence and self-esteem can quickly be reassured by checking your number of “followers” on Twitter or the number of “likes” garnered by your photographs and blog posts. The traction you are getting in your projects, or with your business, can now be measured and reported in real time.

So thanks to the digital world, we’ve conquered boredom and downtime, while building real-time, always-on connections and insta-self esteem boosts! Sounds too good to be true, right?

It has to be… and I don’t think I am alone in this feeling. I’ve read many posts on this subject over the last few months and talked to a bunch of people my age and older who are starting to feel the same way. I do think this is a natural progression as we humans figure this stuff out as it’s being created. Think about it, Facebook is only 9 years old, with most of us using the site over the last 4 or 5 years. In the end, once the novelty wears off, I think most of us start feeling the stress and burden this always-on life delivers and we begin to rebel.

That’s where I am at right now. Before I go full-on Luddite mode, I am going to take a breather and disconnect a little. Not completely, but begin removing the stuff that just doesn’t work any longer.

I keep coming back to Merlin Mann’s Better post:

To be honest, I don’t have a specific agenda for what I want to do all that differently, apart from what I’m already trying to do every day:

  • identify and destroy small-return bullshit;
  • shut off anything that’s noisier than it is useful;
  • make brutally fast decisions about what I don’t need to be doing;
  • avoid anything that feels like fake sincerity (esp. where it may touch money);
  • demand personal focus on making good things;
  • put a handful of real people near the center of everything.

All I know right now is that I want to do all of it better. Everything better. Better, better.

Especially the first two bullets. What does that mean for me?

To start:

  • A 30-day hiatus from Facebook (mobile bookmark deleted, browser blocks in place at work)
  • The only social places you will find me from now on: here on my blog, Flickr, and Twitter.
  • Unplugging at home: a 30-day experiment of not keeping my phone next to my bed.
  • Work on reducing the number of RSS feeds I subscribe to, as well as reduce the number of users I follow on Twitter.
  • Begin a meditation practice: 15 minutes a day.

I will check back at the end of March to see how this little experiment went and figure out where to go next.

Will you join me in disconnecting a little?

Frightened Rabbit: Acts of Man

Frightened Rabbit has a brand new album out called Pedestrian Verse. Overall it’s pretty great. Here’s the lead track, Called Acts of Man, performed live.

I am that dickhead in the kitchen
giving wine to your best girl’s glass
I am the amateur pornographer
unpleasant publisher by hand

not here, not here
heroic acts of man
not here, not here
heroic acts of man

I see the stumbling pinstriped trouser
flecks of sick on and off his shoe
part of the fatty british avarice
who lives in the houses around you

not here, not here
heroic acts of man
not here, not here
heroic acts of man

Let’s all crowd ’round the cowering body
throw stocky fingers bricks and stones
let’s promise every girl we marry
we’ll always love them when we probably won’t
while the knight in shitty armor
rips a drunk out of her dress
one man tears into another
hides a coward’s heart in a lion’s chest

Man, he breeds although he shoudn’t
he’s breeding just because he cums
acts the father for a minute
till the worst insticts return

not here, not here
heroic acts of man
not here, not here
heroic acts of man

I have never wanted more
to be a man to build a house around you
but I am just like all the rest of them
sorry, selfish, trying to improve

I’m here, I’m here
not heroic, but I try
I’m here, I’m here
not heroic, but I try

Can’t wait to see them at the end of March.