Social Media: I’m Sooooooo bored. And Worried, Too

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Plugged In

Yes, yes, I know. The world has changed. Nothing will ever be the same. Because now, we have social media. There’s Facebook and LinkedIn. Pinterest and Twitter. You can text and not even bother to talk with anyone. You can even stay in touch with everyone else while you’re sitting with friends in the park. Or you can do your e-mail while attending a board meeting. Or…

This is actually not good. This is, actually, pretty bad.

You aren’t paying attention to the friends you’re with when you’re texting others. You aren’t making good decisions at the board meeting when you’re checking your e-mail. And really, do you think all those people on Facebook are your friends?

Social media has a role in relationship building. But not everyone wants to link up through social media. Social media can help you bring people together sometimes. But, as Malcolm Gladwell wrote, “The revolution won’t be tweeted.” For that, we still have to gather together physically and demonstrate and march.

Communicating is different than true connection. Read Sherry Turkle’s New York Times opinion piece, “The Flight From Conversation,” in which Turkle writes, “We live in a technological universe in which we are always communicating. And yet we have sacrificed conversation for mere connection.” Texting and tweeting and Facebooking… These aren’t true conversations. These aren’t true relationships. Turkle notes: “Texting and e-mail and posting let us present the self we want to be. This means we can edit…. and delete…” But true human relationships are rich, messy and demanding. And true conversation is rich, messy and demanding, too. Turkle ends by noting that all this social media stuff has a place in our lives—in our work and politics and friendships and romance. But social media does not “substitute for conversation.”

And how about the cover article of the May 2012 issue of The Atlantic, “Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?” The article’s subhead reads: “Social media—from Facebook to Twitter—have made us more densely networked than ever. Yet for all this connectivity, new research suggests that we have never been lonelier (or more narcissistic)—and that this loneliness is making us mentally and physically ill.”

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I’ve just ordered a new book called The Face-to-Face Book: Why Real Relationships Rule in a Digital Marketplace by Ed Keller and Brad Fay. The authors discuss the “social media gold rush.” You know, all the hype and frenzy. And they remind us that we’re missing a “far bigger opportunity with much greater impact to connect with people….the word-of-mouth conversations that happen in our kitchens and living rooms, in our churches and synagogues, next to the office water cooler, on the sidelines of youth soccer and baseball games, powered by the intimacy of face-to-face communications.”

Face-to-face conversations. Just imagine that. Face-to-face conversations with customers and clients, volunteers and donors. Honest, genuine conversation.

Read the lovely, lovely book Conversation: How Talk Can Change Our Lives by Theodore Zeldin. Inspiring and motivating (and really short, too). Get scared by Maggie Jackson’s Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age. No, we mostly cannot multi-task. Instead, we have to pay attention for, as Jackson notes, “nothing is more central to creating a flourishing society built upon learning, contentment, caring, morality, reflection, and spirit than attention.” Then check out Matt Richtel’s New York Times article, “Growing Up Digital, Wired for Distraction.”

Think about humanity and being human. Read Mickey Meece’s New York Times article, “Who’s the Boss, You or Your Gadget?” Then read Jaron Lanier’s book, You Are Not A Gadget: A Manifesto. Lanier is often called “the father of virtual reality” and has been engaged in the Internet since the beginning. And he’s worried that all our gadgets are compromising our humanity.      

If you’re really motivated, read about conversation as a core business practice. And then apply it to all kinds of relationship building. Check out Peter Senge’s learning organization theory and the concepts of dialogue and conversation and asking questions. Read Senge’s The Fifth Discipline and The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook if you haven’t already. Read Dialogue: Rediscover the Transforming Power of Conversation by Ellinor and Gerard.

So. There you have it. I’m sooooo bored with social media. And I’m worried, too. I’m worried for our society and our ability to nurture community. I’m worried for our nonprofits and our donors.

Stop the hype. Pay attention to the broader context. Read these books and articles. Don’t get distracted.


Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in the May 2012 issue of the Joyaux newsletter, the entirety of which is available here.

  • Ru


  • Simone Joyaux

    Glad the column resonated with you, RU. I had someone say to me: “Thanks for saying that just maybe, the emperor isn’t wearing all that many clothes!” Of course of course, social media has a role in our work and social life or whatever blah blah blah. But I’m a bit tired of the hype and excess. I’m reading Sherry Turkle’s book ALONE TOGETHER right now. It is amazing, terrifying, etc. Best, Simone

  • Steven Clift

    What if we used social media to spark NEW, often in-person conversations in local communities?

    I too am overwhelmed by to torrent of Tweets, Facebook posts, but since conversation is often tied to place, looking for ways to connect people online that brings them out into the community might make your online experiences a little less boring.

    See: … and this video that make a point of saying online connections can break the ice and build the capacity for conversations that build bridges among new people. (Not just using social media with friends or those most like you who you would be more likely to have a conversation with unless you push yourself outside your comfort zone.)

    [youtube youtube]

  • Jerold Kappel

    Thank you for this. It reminds of the premise of Bowling Alone. We are becoming more humanly disconnected as we become more digitally connected.

  • Ashley Tobin

    Yes! I started a face-to-face networking program for nonprofit professionals in Philadelphia so we can link up our complementary services in the community. (see Many people have suggested an online component for these conversations, but the in-person meetings build trust and make for more interesting conversations.

  • Elaine Fogel

    Simone, I understand your sentiments, but I believe that social media serves a different purpose for different nonprofit market segments. For those of us who are Baby Boomers, we may have adapted social media, but many still prefer the old-fashioned face-to-face meeting to build and/or maintain relationships. In the fundraising world, these get-togethers represent solid stewardship and increased donations.

    However, the Millennial generation relies a lot on social media and digital communications. This is how they relate to one another, which is unlikely to change. If nonprofits want to reach out to this future donor pool, it’s important to be where THEY are now and engage them on their turf. Investing in relationship building now can pay off with increased advocates and brand champions, and later, as donors.

  • Simone Joyaux

    Thanks, everyone, for your comments. As Elaine observed, we do have to “be” where our “audience” is. On the other hand, the various audiences (in Elaine’s scenario, the Millennials), need to think not just do. There’s something disappointing and sad to see a group of people sitting next to each other — supposedly hanging out with each other — texting. They are together and not talking with each other.

    Human conversation – supported by social media – is important. Human conversation – without social media – is just as important. Our work places and social environments will not function effectively only through social media. We actually have to link to each other face-to-face; have conversations in meetings; watch body language; etc. We have to be able to talk beyond social media to get and keep a job.

    This is an issue for our society. And each group in society – no matter the generation – must have a voice in exploring what we are doing to our society. Millennials have responded to this column – which was, first, one of my newsletters sent out to my subscriber list. Millennials tell me that they are spooked by their generation’s seemingly exclusive link to social media.