The Power of Visceral Relationships

I’m having a conversation on Google+ about social media, and it connected up with an exercise I did today to produce a rather puzzling realization.

Social media has certainly broadened who I know and how we connect. It’s because of social media that I have met some of the great in-person people I know. And I definitely use it to keep in touch with people I’ve met at conferences, etc. It’s just such a weird thing to me.

I’m working my way through a process of re-examining my life, and I did an exercise today of writing down my happiest memories. They mostly fell into categories of: “times I was hanging out in person with friends,” “times I was alone in a nourishing/replenishing environment,” and “times I was performing.” When I think about those memories, I feel really good. I don’t feel really good when I think about my social media interactions, however. I don’t feel bad, either. And that, I think, is why I raised the question. For me, social media relationships are cerebral, not visceral.

That’s great for work, accomplishment, and idea exchange. But it’s the visceral community that, as revealed by this exercise, brings me joy. It’s also the visceral community that make me feel supported, like someone’s got my back, etc. So I wonder how much my social media actually supplants or shifts my relationships from “happy-making” to “engaged-making.” Those aren’t the same thing, and I personally prefer the former to the latter.

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12 Responses to The Power of Visceral Relationships

  1. Chris Hewitt says:

    Great post and one that provides a good challenge to the sometimes obtuse social-media-is-everything thinking we see in a lot of writings/articles.

    I like, and agree, with your points and, in spirit, there’s an interesting parallel that can be drawn between this post and Nicholas Carr’s book The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains…both thought provoking. I believe that social media can be a very critical source of affirmation and validation for many people (i.e. ‘likes’/+1s, followers, comments, etc.)..

    Your perspective is coming from a place of confidence and personal security and I wonder what proportion of heavy social media users (if they read this) could share that perspective to reflectively understand the real message in your post (or would they just hear ‘social media is bad’).

    • Stever says:

      Chris, I haven’t yet read The Shallows, but I certainly notice that in-depth discussion is quite rare on the internet. People are content with a few back-and-forths, but anything resembling a thoughtful back-and-forth is lacking. People comment on, they don’t engage with. What is rather interesting is that this most emphatically was not the case back before the internet was popularized. I made many very good friends over the internet, and we had discussions that would run for many days. Most entries in the discussion were more like essays than mere comments, often running to many paragraphs or pages. The “convenience” of brief status updates seems to have triggered something in our brains that’s perfectly happy to react, rather than ponder.

      • Chris Hewitt says:

        Thanks for the reply.

        Very true…but is ‘convenience’ becoming the new standard…and we’re the outsiders?

        In my opinion, our accepted concept of engagement is changing. I see this especially manifested in my professional marketing circles where my peers (many of whom are published ‘experts’) talk in measures of ‘likes’, shares, and comments.

        Additionally within this new engagement model, I see constructive challenge is sadly overlooked in favor of affirming commentary. We’re selectively engaging (Twitter, Plus, Facebook, blog comments, etc.) and, in doing so, are missing the real (and to your initial point, visceral) opportunities for growth. In many cases, we’re simply collecting social stats and, in a very literal sense, ‘followers’.

        Where is the constructively-focused challenge? Do you think this could just be a function of the audiences using and participating in social media?

        • Stever says:

          Chris, I don’t know and I wish I did. I am firmly in the camp that our social media addiction is dumbing us down. We’re twittering more than even in word count, but we’re saying less. Because it’s so universal, the very standards for what makes a “real” conversation are being eroded. The limits on status updates started for technical reasons—storage costs, the number of free bytes for text messages in cell phone packet headers, etc. Unfortunately, those limits spawned a culture of “microcontent” (which in my opinion implies far too much substance) that is taking over the world. Even news stories now have the top 3 bullet points next to the headline, so you don’t have to be inconvenienced by reading any detail whatsoever.

          As someone trained in science and engineering, who believes we have some serious problems facing the world and our nation, it really worries me. We need people who can have informed, intelligent discussions about complex issues. Instead, we’re turning ourselves into a world of less-than-sound-bite babblers, and giving the companies who make it all possible (FB, Twitter) billions of dollars in encouragement.

          Google has said that their mission is to “organize the world’s information.” That task seems oddly easier, when there’s less and less information content to any given communication. :-)

          • Chris Hewitt says:

            Enjoying this thread, I found myself typing out another reply with more philosophical support for our shared perspective…but then started reading what I had wrote. Rather than a profound statement of professional reflection, it started sounding increasingly arrogant and judgmental. Not good.

            So let me continue the dialog this way. I propose that you grow this post into a deeper dialog that addresses this topic with your audience(s). In keeping with the ‘get it done guy’ philosophy, I would try the following structure…granted this is just a quick swag:

            Get It Done Guy’s Guide to Getting Social Media Done…and done WELL
            – The Large Costs of Micro-content and Micro-Context (business case)
            – Balancing Conciseness and Effectiveness In Communication
            – An Engineer’s Guide to Productive Social Media
            – Building Relationships vs. Collecting Acquaintances

            Social media needs leader from outside the industry, this could be a great opportunity bring much needed professional context to that conversation. What do you think?

  2. Jacqueline says:

    I whole-hearted agree with you that it is visceral community that makes us feel welcome, supported and happy. I have expanded my community through email, not social media. A number of friends from high school and even elementary school have found me through social media. I always give them my email and phone number. A few wrote for a short time; none called. All wanted to post to the social media. This seemed redundant to me, as I would get an email from the media telling me someone had posted. You know the drill. It seemed to me all chatter, no content. And actually only a small interest in contact; more interest in control. Even though I have a love of form, I’m a content person. It seems now that most businesses have social media pages. As my rug business grows perhaps I can find a community in that business world through social media and that could be very beneficial. I’ll put on my to-do list to explore. So far, all the business people I’ve met have been face to face. That’s what they like and they only really like to correspond through any means to confirm appointments. What I’ve discovered with my active email correspondents is that what most people need, no matter how brilliant or witty their words may be or how unflagging their passion for their cause, what they really need is some face time. No one wants to ask for it. It’s like asking for help. In such an aggressive culture, that seems like a huge risk. Ritual eases the transition from virtual to meeting in person. My composer friend, Paul & I meet once a week to catch-up and share what we’re doing creatively. We’re a little bit accountability buddies for our creative efforts. Which is something like wrangling cats, but we’re both getting a fair amount of cats wrangled. We also encourage each other and sympathize with the slings & arrows. For those who need, want and spend many hours working alone, it’s wonderful to walk out of the studio and meet a true friend or friends. I haven’t found any of those on social media. Though through email, I have expanded and cultivated great friendships. For me it’s not the media, it’s how we use it and… how we let it go and do something better, like get together.

  3. A great notion. .Bings to mind scattered infos that may paint a picture:
    Children pick up body language from adults and almost nothing that comes from their mouth as true intent is broadcast via the body, gesture, tone.

    Neuro science also tells us that the body and the subconscious are the same.

    Some scientists are pushing for the heart to become a sensory organ. SInce the heart yields the biggest magnetic filed in the body(MUCH bigger than the brain’s) it is the first organ to be influenced by other’s magnetic field. (Hmm first impressions anyone?)
    That’s why email is a disaster for some of my relationships. There is no Resonnance, no physiology, no “In Concert” , no harmony.. the Other is reduced to frontal lobe concept.
    A figment of your screen.

  4. Jill Shames says:

    I agree with you. Social media do not substitute for real face-to-face relationships. What social media do best is allow us to broaden our relationship base rather than deepen it. I appreciate the opportunity to manitain some kind of contact with people with whom I would be unlikely to maintain an email or more intensive relationship. My social media relationships also serve as a launch pad for deeper and more intensive relationships with new colleagues and long-lost friends.

  5. Misty says:

    Mostly I agree. I do find that the visceral continue — even on social media — if it is in place before connecting on social media. I have to recharge the visceral in person and/telephone from time to time.

  6. Teresa says:

    I agree with you. There is no cost, no vulnerability in a “social media” relationship, so they are easy. Real relationships cost time, the willingness to be vulnerable, our emotions and more, therefore the reward is greater. What a way to destroy a society, get them involved on a surface level, involved in the means of maintaining those relationships, so that they don’t have the skills, time and emotional intelligence to navigate a real relationship.

  7. Darrell Phillips says:

    I really like your post as well. I’ve heard this before, and I definitely believe it that if we find maybe two or three really good friends in our lives here on earth, then we may count ourselves very blessed. I’m not a user of social media, and to be honest, really don’t enjoy even email relationships. Please don’t get me wrong, I definitely love being with people, very active in my church and our family is pretty normal, (I hope anyway.) I also agree very much with Chris Hewitt’s comment about Nicholas Carr’s book The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains…it is a real eye opener, and Stever your comments hit the nail on the head… and though I never thought to use the word “visceral” to describe these relationships, I sure see how it fits wonderfully…these are the ones that stay inside of me, especially my heart.

  8. As is customary your observations are succinct and insightful.
    There is little room for subtlety, nuance or shading in social media communications..
    I am in complete agreement with your sentiments about social media, and make minimal use of them.

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