In the Age of Social Media, Real Connection Has Not Changed

This is a guest post by Matt Cohen, Associate Marketing Manager at ResMed and President of the Cal Poly Alumni San Diego Chapter. Learn more about Matt by connecting with him on LinkedIn here


From time to time, I like to ask myself the following question to check in on the way I’m living. The question is, “If everyone in the world were exactly like you, what would be better and what would be worse?” I could write an entire other article on what would be worse, as any honestly introspective person probably could, but I’d like to focus on one thing I do well for this article: connecting.

In the age of social media, we are more connected than ever. LinkedIn is a great example of this. Never in history has one’s entire professional network, as well as everyone your network knows, been one click away. The value of this unprecedented connection and access to one another is indisputable, evidenced by my ability to have this article read by people all over the world, but so too is the downside. We have become addicted to likes, shares, and comments because we feel it provides validation for who we are as people. In fact, research has shown that getting this perceived social validation online results in a similar release of dopamine to that of a positive in-person interaction. However, to put it simply, this is our mind playing tricks on us.

That’s right- I’m a millennial and I am saying that there is no substitution for face-to-face interaction. I know that may be hard to believe for those of you from previous generations, but I suspect that more of my generation feels that way than you may think. We are hardwired as humans, regardless of age, to crave social interaction and we know deep down that there is no substitute for the connections we make while in the same room. Just think of how much easier it is to develop trust in someone with whom you can shake hands or share a meal. Then consider that trust is the currency of opportunity and, without it, it is nearly impossible to develop the meaningful relationships we rely on to accomplish our goals in life.

I know firsthand how easy it is to fall back on online relationships. Even as a self-proclaimed extrovert and adept connector, there have been times when I have not known what to say to someone I see across the room and settle for the less stressful path of messaging them afterward behind the safety of my screen. Unless that message ultimately results in a meeting, though, I regret it. There’s no way our online conversation will carry the same quality it could have if I just mustered the courage to say hello.

So, what do we do with all of this in mind? You should certainly not do away with your social media accounts. Embrace the potential that exists in instant global communication, both personally and professionally. You should also keep in mind, however, that it should not be used as a substitute, but rather as a complement to physical interaction. I live across the country from my family and have for several years, so I am acutely aware that you can’t always arrange a coffee meeting, even with those you love. Next time you want to engage a local friend, co-worker, professional connection, or someone you may see across the room, I would challenge you to step outside your comfort zone. Genuine connection comes from genuine conversation. Look them in the eye, learn their name, shake their hand, and listen to what they say. Feeling advanced? Try listening to the other person without thinking about your reply. I know it’s not always easy, but you will get better the more you force yourself to do it and it will pay huge dividends.

“You will be the same person in five years as you are today except for the people you meet and the books you read.” – Charlie Jones

Author Charlie Jones said, “You will be the same person in five years as you are today, except for the people you meet and the books you read.” Unfortunately, neither of these staples of personal growth and development happen like they used to, but that can change. Self-control is the only control we really have, so that change has to start with you. It won’t be as easy as posting a status, but I promise you it will be infinitely more fulfilling.

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