Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Balancing Social Networking with a Social Life

What's the definition of a friend these days? Who do you consider to be your 'friends?" Are they the people you work with, grew up with, see around town, work out at the gym, and meet for lunch -- or are they the folks you chat with on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn?

Our traditional social lives, coupled with modern social networking, is the new standard -- and it's here to stay. How do we balance the expanding possibilities for social connections in a way that is healthy and nourishing, instead of draining and overwhelming? Most modern adults are connected to hundreds of people each month from varied interactions, and the average Facebook user has nearly 150 friends. Astounding, isn't it?

I treasure having a solid community of friends I see in my daily life, as a true lifeline of grounding and support. I have also found the friends I connect with via blogging, emails and social networking fill another wonderful place of social fulfillment never imagined a decade ago. The rise of the internet has become a "living symbol" of global connection, as Llewelyn Vaughn-Lee wrote.

I have come to believe that the Internet and other modes of global communication are not just tools to help us communicate and access information, but also have a symbolic function. They are dynamic images of a global interconnectedness and oneness that belong to life. As symbols they convey a deeper meaning and purpose than their surface function. But in order to access this dimension we have to have the appropriate attitude of receptivity.

I see our traditional relations (the inner) and our networked relations (the outer) to be a new "Tree of Life." Think of a large living tree as a symbol of yourself and your modern, multi-layered social life. The trunk of the tree is you -- maybe you are a slim and lovely Aspen, a strong and sturdy Maple, or a gently bending Willow. What variety describes you best? The ground below you is your home and your community. Is your soil well nourished and watered, or is it dry and cracked? Are you planted in a welcoming place, or are you struggling to survive?

Imagine the roots underneath to be the friends and family you consider near and dear to your heart -- those whom you rely on to get through daily life, or can't wait to see on vacations and holidays. The branches that soar above you are the people you touch more peripherally through social networking, collegial relations and so on. There are endless opportunities to extend new shoots into the sun and find interesting or like-minded people to connect.

Many of the 40 plus crowd have had a slower, more mixed feeling about extending any branches at all. Change does not come as easy to us old Redwoods, who prefer to keep those roots nourished -- and let the branches remain dormant, as in winter time. Many of the younger crowd has begun utilizing the power of global sites to develop vast numbers of friends that boggle the imagination. Their branches have blossomed so far and wide as to create a canopy of leaves, rich with the excitement of new growth.

One cannot fully survive without the other. While many lament the superficiality of social networking, it is a part of the culture, and once resistance is lowered, the possibilities of enhancing your life are very real. For others, the enchantment of new growth can overtake the commitment to maintaining the foundation. All tweets on new branches, and no contact with the ground makes for a very unbalanced life!

In the next two blogs, I will explore both ends of this new "Tree of Life." Next week we will celebrate "tried and true" rooted friendships, and in the following I will highlight those who have had success in social networking relations.

If you were to draw a picture of your tree, what would it look like? How healthy is the trunk (you)? What do your roots or inner relations look like; are they healthy and interconnected or thin, meager and craving some organic fertilizer? How about your branches of outer relations. Do you have any? What do they look like? Are you unfolding new leaves in the sun and perhaps bearing the fruit of new possiblilities?

If your tree is all roots and no branches, it is time to let your fingers do the walking and upgrade your social software. Reach out to others by leaving comments on blogs that you like, set up a Facebook page and watch old friends find you, or join a cause that allows you to connect to others of like mind. The rewards are fairly instant, and fun!

Extending new branches and leaves exclusively can ultimately backfire as well. Imagine a tree with all branches and no roots. What do we have? A tumbleweed comes to my mind -- out of balance and drifting in the wind. Social networking can quickly become an obsession. Remembering and tending your roots is the quickest way to come back to balance.

Untold studies show our deepest feelings of happiness and contentment are linked to the people we have in our life. Let's celebrate them all. Write at least one note today to someone in your inner root system, and to one person in your outer branches, to extend your gratitude for their presence in your life.

And, let's hear it! What does your tree look like? How do you balance your inner and outer social lives? Love to hear your comments, and we can continue on Facebook as well. I am looking for homegrown friend stories for next week, and social success stories for the week after. Thanks!

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