Online social networking has forever changed the ways we connect with each other. Which of these changes are helping you create a positive and abundant social life? Which changes are leading you towards stagnation?
Do you consider interacting with web browsers and online profiles to be social behavior? There's certainly a social aspect to it in the sense that you're communicating with people via the Internet, but it's a pretty limited channel for satisfying your true social needs.
Typing messages back and forth or reading status updates can't compare to having a real face to face conversation.
Clicking through someone's photos is a lifeless 2D experience compared to seeing a real body in its full 3D animated expressiveness.
Video-Skyping is a richer way to connect, but you can't touch an online video. You can't even share a handshake let alone a hug.
Where does this path really lead? As you make more online friends, it leads you to spend more time with your web browser or your cell phone. This means less time to spend on real face to face human interaction.
Social networking via the Internet is like eating junk food. It will fill your belly and give you some temporary satisfaction, but in the long run, it doesn't do much for your health. It can also encourage you to over-consume because it doesn't give your body the nutrition it needs.
The Need for Socialization
Human beings are innately social creatures. We're born completely dependent on others for our survival, and as much as you might like to think otherwise, this doesn't change much throughout our lives. Humans are not solo creatures. We band together to meet our needs, not just our survival needs but our emotional needs as well.
One of the worst punishments to inflict on a human being is solitary confinement. After some time completely alone, most people would gladly spend time in the company of convicted murderers than be subjected to further solitude. Simply put, we need each other. Any humans who may have been truly anti-social would have been bred out of existence long ago, since we have to connect with others to reproduce.
If you find yourself addicted to online socializing, don't see it as an addiction. See it as a real human need. Whether you're willing to admit it or not, you need to connect with other human beings. And you need to do this often, ideally spending a significant part of each day in the company of others.
The problem with trying to meet this need via the Internet is that it doesn't fully satisfy the need for socialization. This leads to over-consuming, spending more time in online socializing that you've consciously decided.
In January I quit Facebook, shutting down my personal page as well as my fan page. I shared my reasons for doing so in my Leaving Facebook blog post. I also shared an update after 30 days in my 30-day Facebook Fast post.
I realized that being active on Facebook couldn't compare to real face to face socializing, so I shifted my social time towards more offline connections. I made it a higher priority to connect with people in person. I still communicate online with people frequently, but I don't invest as much time on it as I did last year.
I noticed some key differences as I made this shift. One difference is that I'm having a lot more fun. Doing a lot of online socializing tends to drain me, but face to face interactions usually energize me. Deep conversations about personal growth, the nature of reality, or other subjects that interest me are inspiring.
Another difference is that face to face conversations can create the kind of connection in an hour that it would take a month to achieve online. When you can hear someone's tone of voice and see their body language, you're going to understand them much better than if you simply read their words on a screen. This is one reason I started doing live workshops too — people can instantly grasp ideas in minutes that might otherwise take hours of reading to comprehend.
If you spend a lot of time alone, you'll often feel the urge to do some type of faux socialization. You may want to flip on the TV so you can see other people. Or you may want to check your email or social networking sites impulsively. Or you may want to read a book, so you can feel you're engaged with other characters. Reading my articles can fit the bill as well, giving you the sense that you're connecting with me; yet the reality is that we may be many miles apart.
Yes, faux socialization is still a form of connecting, just as junk food is a form of food. But it's probably not the best way to meet your needs.
The socializing part is a genuine human need, included in Maslow's hierarchy of needs as a sense of belongingness and love, but the faux part can constitute an unhealthy addiction. Just as junk food crowds out healthy food, faux socializing crowds out healthy socializing.
When you get more of the real thing, you'll find that your taste for the fake version gradually drops off. If you eat a lot of fruits and vegetables every day, junk food cravings will tend to subside within 30-40 days. If you do a sufficient amount of in-person socializing (ideally every day), your interest in online socializing will tend to diminish.
To shift towards a healthier and more abundant social life, don't worry about trying to quit Facebook or anything like that. Instead, focus on amping up your face to face socializing. Make a point of doing something social several times a week, every day if you can swing it. You'll likely find that after about a month or so, socializing online will seem a lot less interesting, perhaps even boring.
If you work with people, you may enjoy a lot of socialization in the normal course of your workday, but if you work at home like I currently do, it's especially important to allocate time for your social life — offline. This can make your workdays more productive in the long run since you won't feel as much of an impulse to get your social needs met via the Internet during your workday.
Someday the Internet may be so advanced that it can meet our social needs in truly satisfying and fulfilling ways. But for now it's still in the junk food stage, too artificial to compete with the real thing.
I'm not suggesting you need to give up online socializing. Treat it as a companion to face to face socializing, but not a substitute. Make your in-person social life a significantly higher priority than your online social life. This is very important to your path of personal growth. There are many aspects of human social development that get stunted by excessive online communication and which can only be fully developed with sufficient face time (no pun intended for the geeks who are capable of noticing the pun).
If you're not sure where to begin, start by setting the intention to expand your offline social life. When offline social opportunities come up, say yes to them. When you get inspired by an idea to do something social, act on it. It will take time, perhaps a few months, but eventually you'll have a rich and abundant social life, and you won't feel such a desire to try to meet this need through faux socialization. Fill your belly with real food, and you won't be so hungry.