Community, Online and Beyond
Any group that meets to share life is considered a community. While it used to mean a physical group (as in a church building of people meeting face-to-face), the Internet and telecommunications have paved the way for real time interaction at little or no cost, enhanced by the ability to leave messages and read them at a later time. It's no surprise, then, that businesses, families, friends, and places of worship have all adapted the use of these tools to their means of communicating with one another.
The key to making connections meaningful outside of physical presence in consistency. Just like in-person, relationships grow through sharing, which can only be done when all parties involved discuss topics, share views, and celebrate victories. Even if you are a busy person, you can still stay in the loop by keeping up at your convenience, posting chat comments or texts from any time zone. Because habits take 21 days to stick, the goal is to be realistic about what kind of relationships you want to foster, and what you need to do personally to maintain them. What kind of ties do you wish to strengthen? Are you seeking to learn more about your family or old friends, or are you getting acquainted with new ones?
By establishing the reason for your need of a community with your PC or phone, you can then begin to plan your routine. If you and the other person (or an entire group) have a collective purpose, you can check in regularly for updates. If you have scheduled events or are planning an activity, then calendars and reminders are great tools to utilize. Plus, having set goals will motivate you to remain an active part of the relationship or group when you hold yourself responsible for tasks.
Sometimes technology becomes a cluttered mess when people mindlessly post or text (similar to someone who talks non-stop without letting others get a word in edge-wise). When that happens, it can be a challenge to stay focused on the objective, because you start filtering what you pay attention to, and may accidentally miss something important in the process. Not to mention it lessens the posters' credibility by default. In this era of instant news, it can be tempting to want to keep up with details, but there comes a point when enough is enough! No one wants to be constantly reminded about the same things, or have their time wasted on unessential chatter that does nothing to move their relationships forward or enlighten their viewpoints. Healthy discussion is...well, healthy...and the only way it remains as such is when two or more people share their thoughts and ideas. That's not to say that sometimes words don't fail us, because there are times when adequate words are impossible. But even in such situations, there are little things all parties can do to let others know they are acknowledged and understood, so that even in big matters that seem to yield zero participation on the surface, we can remain actively engaged in conversations by giving a thumbs up, "liking" or retweeting or quoting, or simply adding a smiley face as acceptable responses. The reason why it becomes a challenge is because it lack the in-person responses, such as with nods or shakes of the head, laughter, tears, hugs, or hand-pats. To whoever has been in long-distance relationships, or has been separated from family due to occupational or civic duties, they know that there is no permanent substitute for human contact. Video screens and typed text cannot replace the need for our feeling human too, by being around other breathing, living people - especially with those we care for a great deal. It is possible to maintain relationships through technology, but being around others in-person at some point allows for a fuller relationship overall.
Ways to Grow Your Community
- Reach out to others. Just as it works in-the-flesh, don't expect people to video chat, post threads, or text you first. Eventually, it will work both ways, but without being in someone's presence when conversing, it can be hard to know if all parties are paying full attention at any given time, because they may be multi-tasking at work, home, or on the go.
- Ask open-ended questions. It might sound more like conducting an interview if you're not used to it, but by having a true conversation, you are asking questions that reveal something about the person or people you've approached, and allowing them to answer, which validates how important you think they are. And if people know this, they are more apt to share, which in turn helps you grow, too.
- Be selective and varied in your sharing. Saying too few or too many things can make or break relationships. You can become a downer or an intimidator just from the depth of your conversations. You will certainly face opposition at some point, since everyone is different, but that shouldn't keep you from sharing your views. People can agree to disagree if they really want to, and sometimes all sides might even learn and develop a third view as a result of understanding where all parties are coming from after a discussion. The point here is that it all depends on what you want to gain by sharing. Do you want to share good news? Ask for help? There is always a tactful way of doing so. If you have too many rants or too many raves, however, it might indicate your need for self-reflection and prayer or journaling.
- Break it down. All groups start with the power of one person, and spread from there. But when it comes to knowing people individually, you HAVE to make the time for connecting with them one-on-one, and expanding to include others as you go (or vice versa), and then experience an event together. That's what makes for lasting bonds, no matter the amount of people or type of relationship.
People want to know they matter, and to not feel alone. That is why they connect in the first place! Online communities and telecommunication enables us to reach out from anywhere. It is both an exciting, as well as a demanding way of life, but it can be a crucial aide (though not a replacement) for those who primary means of human contact is only possible by technology. The rest of the time, try these suggested activities for building relationships:
- gift exchanges
- dining together
- attending live music, movies, theater, sports, or dance performances
- attending special interest classes
- practicing hobbies together
- praying together
- traveling or shopping together
Questions to Consider
How can you improve your relationships with others by using online or telecommunication means?
How do you view community?
What relationship goals do you have this year?
How can your friends and/or family assist you in overcoming any struggles you are currently facing?
Name an activity from the list above (or add one) that you would like to plan with your "community."