Twitter – and to an extent Facebook and other online social networking – has become the primary neighborhood, for me, and I suspect for many of you. “Right” or “wrong” (and it’s really neither, it just is) I know my friends that I have met through Twitter – who live in other parts of the city, country, world – better than I know most of the people who live on my street.
Why? Because I see their lives streaming before me in real time, day in and day out. And they see mine. And no, not just the mundane details, like what they are having for breakfast (though yes, you have to self-filter that to get to the good stuff), but also their challenges and struggles (job searches, illnesses, family problems) – and their triumphs (new jobs, weddings, babies being born). It’s really quite the reality show…much more interesting than anything on TV, on a “good Twitter day”. (Other times, yes, it can be like watching paint dry.)
Ask for help when you need it. Help when you can.
Much has been written documenting the social good being instigated online. And I firmly believe we each have a responsibility to “pay it forward” when we can. In my little microcosmic world, recently, I had surgery. Who came to my aid afterwards with books, wonderful home cooked meals, and offers to help? It wasn’t the couple next door or the couple down the street. It wasn’t even family members, who, granted, live a fair distance away. It was friends I met and built relationships with via Twitter, and, subsequently, at offline events. A huge thank you, again, to those who helped or offered help.
There’s always the Twitterhood. And it’s a blessing.
So, should I make more of an effort to get to know the couples next door and down the street? Absolutely. Our suburban lifestyle isn’t super-conducive to that, though, as I’m just not home that much, and when I am, I’m not usually shooting the breeze over the back fence. (Not to mention that where I live, it’s decent outside about one third of the year.) Maybe it would be different if I lived in a town as small as the one in which I was raised? Or maybe not. Maybe things are just…different now. You could argue that I’m being lazy. And maybe at times I am. There needs to be a balance between online neighbors and physical neighbors.
Let me participate in the way that I can be most effective.
If you’re a marketer or fundraiser, you need to understand this dynamic. For example, the American Cancer Society runs a neighborhood fundraising campaign, in which they ask volunteers such as me to send a letter – yes, a paper, old school letter, with, like a stamp and stuff – to everyone on their block asking them to donate money. Nice idea, and maybe once upon a time it was effective, or maybe in some communities, it still is. For me, it was a complete waste of time and generated exactly zero return, as I predicted it would. Why? Because my geographic neighbors don’t know me as well as my online, on-Twitter neighbors do. (Well, that and the fact that half of the addresses were out of date.) ACS gives their volunteer neighborhood fundraisers the option of also creating a fundraising web page, but, after doing all the letters, well, I couldn’t find the time that day to get it done. A great way around this problem would be for ACS and like organizations to give its volunteers choices from several different paths to participation. Don’t assume that how you define my neighborhood is how I define my neighborhood.
We’re creating online communities the way our grandparents did in small towns.
Related, here’s a brilliant post from the inimitable Sara Santiago: A Guy For That. In it, Sara points out how “social media is really just helping us find (and be) “a guy for that” in a much larger online community.” Our “guys” used to be in our town, whereas now, our “guys” maybe be across the country or across the world. And, Sara says, “social media has allowed us to create a powerful online community, in much the same way our grandparents did within a small town.” Yes. THAT. That is what we are talking about.
The assertion here is that, for many of us, the notion, the definition, the expression of “neighborhood” has fundamentally changed.
What’s up in your ‘hood?
My family, particularly my eldest brother, thinks Twitter is ridiculous. I think it’s just an extended neighborhood. So now, when, in the mornings, you see me tweet “Good morning, Twitterhood” you’ll know what the heck I am talking about.
Is this what’s happening for you, too? Or is your experience different?
Is the fact that we’re spending more of our time networking online weakening our physical neighborhoods? Or just making them bigger, maybe even closer-knit?
What do you think?