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As social media continues to have a big impact in our society, I’ve been considering how to best fit it into my own life. Communications technology continues to evolve and the next evolution may be contact lenses that allow you to  overlay virtual experiences without a headset. Instead of being alone in a virtual world, we would be able to take out experience out into the world and see real time data about people and places. It’s easy to imagine how this could effect our lives in both positive and negative ways.

The Netflix series, Black Mirror, recently took this idea to the dark side with their Nosedive episode. In the episode, Lacie Pound is eager to move up on the social media ladder from a 4.2 to a 4.8. She has implanted contact lenses which allow her to see the status of everyone around here. In her world, a 4.2 on a scale of 1-5 is not quite good enough. If she can boost her status to a 4.5 or higher, she has access to better housing, work and social experiences. Here life is going well when she’s invited to be the maid of honor at the wedding of a childhood friend. On her journey to the wedding, her status begins to unravel as she loses her temper at the airport and ends up hitchhiking to the wedding. Along the way, she meets Susan, a 1.4 truck driver, who has lost her husband to cancer because his status wasn’t high enough for the best treatments. The episode is thought provoking but I don’t want to be a spoiler. Watch it to see how this finally ends for Lacie.

For me, Nosedive was too close to reality. Airlines, hotels, and amusement parks all have programs where you can boost your status to receive added benefits. We pay more so that we can have a better seat, a nicer room, or a shorter line. It feels great when you have the upgraded status and pretty awful when you’re at the back of the line. And on social media like Twitter and Facebook, we get likes, shares and retweets when people approve of what we post. The impact of social media in influencing our decision making is huge. The recent U.S. presidential election is a powerful example of how social media was used to influence voters.

Nosedive also reminded me of the struggles that I had (and still have) with self worth. In high school, I always felt like I was not quite good enough. You can read my Teachers Guild post for that story. I still remember applying for Anchor Club membership in high school and being rejected. There was some secret formula, much like the Nosedive 4.8, that was required for membership. Rather than accept the status quo, my friends and I created a new club with open membership for all students. Even today, I attend events and am troubled by how online status effects how people interact with each other.

I love having the opportunity to share and connect with others online and am grateful to have so many social media tools available. The problem comes when I pay too much attention to those status reports from Twitter and LinkedIn and spend too much time editing my thoughts to 140 characters. I’ve learned from my work with innovators that people are at their best when they don’t worry about status. They do great work because they’re passionate about that work and willing to take a risk.

As I begin 2017, my goal is to find the right balance with social media. I want to continue to connect and share with others. My own personal growth is dependent on these relationships. Below are questions that I will consider (and you can too) to build a thriving online community.

  • Who do you want to connect with? Follow those people online. Send them personal messages and develop a relationship. Find them at conferences and have conversations. Schedule video chats to discuss topics of interest. If they’re more interested in your status than who you are, don’t spend time trying to get their attention.
  • Why do you want to connect through social media? Do you want to learn more about a specific area of interest? Are there places and events in your community where you can also connect face-to-face? Ask why enough times and you’ll come up with some interesting answers.
  • What do you want to share and what do you want to learn from others? Seek out online communities with people who share your interests. A private community through Slack might allow you to share more openly and build strong relationships.
  • How will you will share your message? Instead of squeezing everything into 140 characters, create a blog or video and share the link. Start a book discussion. If you want to get to know people on Twitter, join a weekly Twitter chat.
  • When will you connect on social media? Schedule several blocks of time on your weekly calendar and make it a habit to use that time for learning and sharing.

As 2017 begins,  I look forward to connecting with you online and also engaging in face-to-face conversations and activities. Thank you for being there for me and best wishes for a Happy New Year!

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