Unsocial Media: Building Community in a Digital World

Social media is hindering our ability to build true community.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

There are 1.3 billion users on Facebook and yet, I suspect that as individuals in a society, we’ve never felt so alone. Consider your current Facebook feed. More than likely, it’s a mosh pit of:

  • Look at these pictures of my fabulous vacation
  • Listen to me complain about the weather
  • Help me to find a box of legos for my kid
  • Watch this ridiculous video of my cat
  • Congratulate me on my latest fitness goal
  • Celebrate my recent project success

Do you see the pattern? Me. ME. ME!!!!!

Now before I get too far, let me confess: Yes, I have a Facebook and I use it fairly regularly. My husband and I recently relocated our family to another state, so I particularly appreciate Facebook for keeping tabs on the friends and family we left and so they can keep tabs on … well, yes … me.

But, are we really “connected”? Can a “Like” or a “Comment” replace true community? If not, then what is it exactly that we are building? Is the digital communication age undermining our social skills?

Before examining social media’s impact on it, the first question should be: what is “community” in our 21st century society?

The social construct of “community” is more than merely a collection of individuals — it is a set of relationships, attitudes and behaviors of a group of people united by a common goal.

If the common goal is to care for one another and to provide support for one another, then what are the relationships, attitudes and behaviors needed to attain such a goal? And can these relationships, attitudes and behaviors thrive in the digital space?

As children, when we are first taught how to build “community” (e.g. our friends, our classmates, our little league teammates), we learn the “Golden Rule”:

Treat others the way you would like to be treated.

This childhood tenet is rooted in Jesus’ teaching as:

Love your neighbor as yourself.

And as we traverse childhood and grow into adults, we learn that to “love” one another requires asking questions, listening, eye contact, physical touch, and taking action in response to others’ needs. In each of these behaviors, we intentionally invest in the life of that other person.

Over time, these repeated behaviors build “relationship” and when replicated among people with a common goal, results in “community.”

Because we can access our always-on social media tools 24/7 with the swipe of our finger, the danger is that they give the illusion of connectedness, when reality is that such me-focused media exacerbates our already inherent temptation to compare our lives with the lives of those in our feed, which ultimately divides us rather than unites us.

Does this risk mean we should ditch our collective Facebook feeds and leave our Twitter updates for the birds? No. Not necessarily. But it does mean that we ought to acknowledge the hall of relational mirrors that inhabits social media and be intentional about balancing our digital “community” with face-to-face encounters as we invest in the relationships, attitudes and behaviors necessary to better serve one another.

Though digital communication is here to stay, I am convinced that it is insufficient for building the community we crave as inherently social beings. Rather, we will build true community when we move away from our various screens to be physically present in the lives of those around us. No matter how technologically advanced we become as a society, you simply cannot replace digital connectedness for physical presence as we aim to love our neighbors as ourselves.

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Winning: Results vs. Relationships

Leadership is winning results and winning relationships

Image courtesy of bulldogza / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Let’s be real: Leadership is often about winning. And for anyone who has ever worked closely with me, you know this to be true: I am competitive. Give me a goal and I will achieve it. I love the challenge. I want to succeed. I like to win.

I don’t think this makes me unique though. I think most leaders are competitive and results-driven. Their drive to “win” is what causes them to rise to the top of their peers, to stand out among the crowd, and to harness creativity and ingenuity to produce excellent results.

But is achieving winning results the only aim? For me, this is only part of the goal. Not only do I want to achieve winning results, but I also want to build winning relationships in the process. It doesn’t matter how “successful” my project results are if I’ve left a string of broken relationship in my wake.

People matter. Relationships count. And I am convinced that when I lead with positive team relationships, we are much more likely to achieve successful results.

When working toward a goal, I generally have two choices as a leader: I can either be heavy handed, demanding, and authoritarian in an effort to micro-manage my team into achieving the results I want, or I can genuinely invest in them relationally, find out what intrinsically motivates them, and keep their jobs clear of the roadblocks and bottlenecks that slow them down. I have found this latter approach to be much more effective and much more rewarding.

For some reason, our society has vilified winning. Show up to a few Saturday morning kids’ sporting “contests” and you’ll see what I mean: soccer games with no goalies; basketball games with no score; cheerleaders who cheer for both teams. Despite whatever good intentions undergird such “positive thinking”, I think the “everyone gets a trophy just for showing up” parenting movement is going to negatively impact an entire generation of young people when they enter a competitive workforce and are confronted with the harsh reality that “everyone doesn’t get a paycheck just for showing up.”

I think this movement has been overly-influenced by the saying: “It doesn’t matter whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.” I disagree. To be successful in business, it does matter if you win or lose (although lest you think I’m only one-dimensional on this topic, there will be more about the importance of losing in another post), but it also matters how you play the game. These two objectives are not mutually exclusive.

Just because we are motivated by winning doesn’t mean we have to be jerks. People matter. Relationships count. As a leader, you can have both winning results and winning relationships.