I know, it’s so easy in our attention-deficit society where we are welded to our phones. Waiting in line? Swipe the phone open and check your notifications. Sitting on the train, quick scroll through social media. And as you are scrolling every now and then you hit that little like button or double-tap that heart. Maybe you even share that article, but just the article, you don’t have time to write a few words about why you are sharing it. Isn’t sharing enough?
Your likes are our problem
There’s a reason that social media’s growth expanded like wildfire to become an integral part of our everyday lives. In a society where our connection to others was stretched to its limits, these platforms gave us an instant and immediate way to feel connected once again. Baby photos, cat memes, your aunt’s work lunch, breaking news. It’s all there on your tiny screen, brand new information every time you look at it.
The power of technology is immense, and its power to do good is only ever going to be matched by its capacity for harm.
Think about it, every time you click, tap or share, you create a mini connection. Sharon in accounts is no doubt delighted to know that you love her furbaby as much as she does. After all, look at all the likes her post has.
These mini connections, though, cannot be used as a substitute for meaningful connection. Scan back in your mind, how many actual comments, real interactions have you made in your time online in the last 24 hours? Not many? That would be my expectation and honestly, most days it would be my answer too. Because like you, I’m busy, too busy to write an email, too busy to call but I can drop a like or a LOL on your photo and mentally cross my fingers that you will know from that micro-interaction that I’m still thinking of you.
We’ve trained ourselves into the art of meaningless connection and it has to change
Low connection content and communities
This has a particularly detrimental effect in online communities. Busy, meaningful online communities are an invaluable meeting place for their members, they provide a touchpoint and sense of belonging throughout your day. Larger online communities can also be an undeniable firehose of information. To help us poor humans process all that information, big tech developed algorithms and tried to mathematically work out what was most important for us to see. A great concept, a leap in innovation, sadly, not that great for human-to-human connection. With every like and click, we train the algorithm to show us more of that type of content. High engagement = high importance. Great! Except that there is no substitute for nuance and the ability to discern between positive and negative engagement. Moreover, engaging with low connection content means that you will see more of that type of content and less of the denser, more meaningful content that most humans crave.
Until we reach a point where it is impossible to distinguish between human and algorithm, it’s going to be up to us to decide what is meaningful. If we want to ensure that our digital community spaces remain valuable and relevant for the future, it is our responsibility to create meaningful engagement.
Community happens in the connections
The good news is that creating meaningful connections in community takes only a little more effort. You are already consuming the content, the next step is to engage with it. To do that,
- Make your time online intentional. If you are going to spend time scrolling, commit to commenting. Not every time on every post, but at least some of the time. Ask questions, share your thoughts, get involved.
- Don’t like and run. If you click like on something, tell us why.
- When you share an article, take 30 seconds to type a sentence telling us why you are sharing the article. Create space for conversation about your perspective and engage in comments with people who take the time to share theirs. If you are too busy at that moment to formulate a comment, save the post until you have more time.
Remember, for now, we are still in charge of how we shape our digital spaces. It’s up to us to craft that landscape and ensure that we are defining how we connect meaningfully to other humans online.
No one is expecting you to comment on every post you see, that would be overwhelming and you would quickly fall into a pattern of leaving meaningless comments just so you could tick that off your to-do list. Rather, I would like us to take the time to seek out the conversations online. Create posts which invite meaningful connections with others and make your interactions as intentional as you can.
After all, if you haven’t got time to meaningfully interact with what you are consuming, maybe a little less time scrolling and liking and a little more personal connection would be a better investment of the time you do have, in the first place.
Emmy is currently working with organisations and local governments who want to better connect with their communities to create impact and change at scale. She is a Community Leadership Strategist and an international speaker on the topic of community building who has been featured on Facebook’s Community website.
Meet Emmy and Naomi
Emmy McCarthy and Naomi Hattaway often like to joke that they are one brain split over two continents. After “meeting” on a podcast about community building they quickly realised that not enough people who actually steward thriving communities were talking about how they build and grow communities. They also realised how much they had to say about that.
Emmy and Naomi believe that every individual is capable of making an impact on society but they often lack the support and information on how to do so.
Through #RedefiningCommunities Emmy and Naomi hope to open up the conversation on the communities we are building, gather together the people creating impact through action and provide a space for learning and growing together.