One Year Ago Today: Gratitude for Social Circles and (what) Social Media (used to be)

A Facebook memory showed up today that has taken on new importance to me given all of the pandemic stuff that started affecting our day-to-day lives so shortly after I wrote it. The connections I wrote about have kept me sane this past year. Interestingly enough, if I had waited until this year to try socializing via social media, I don’t think it would have worked. Our social media have, largely, lost the social aspect as so many have de-emphasized the “social” and falsely emphasized the “media” aspects of their posts. But more about that, and the impact of our examples on our children, in another post.

For today, I want to share my Facebook memory:

So, back to that Jessica Pan book I posted about yesterday (get comfy, this could take a while) . . .

One of the things she talked about was relationships in terms of strong ties vs. weak ties. Strong ties would be family and close friends, our inner circle, and weak ties would be our outer circle.

“It is our weak ties, the people we are only loosely connected to, who are actually more influential on our lives,” she wrote. “They bring new information, advice, and perspectives: new job prospects, commissions, fresh inspiration, or collaborators that we would otherwise have never discovered.”

This struck me. I mean, it didn’t strike me in an “I sustained a blow to the head” kind of way; but, after an initial and very brief, albeit probably large, eyeroll (networking is for users) (did I mention this was in a chapter about networking?), I was amazed at all of the personal examples that came raining out of the memory banks into my conscious brain. I have, unbeknownst to me, been networking online in one form or another since about 2006. The universe, and my perceptions of networking, shifted.

I hear social media getting bashed all the time, and then I feel guilty every time I get on it. But? I get on it rather frequently, because it is something I can do, while the boys do school, that I can quickly walk away from when they need me (it’s happened several times since I started writing this, which tells you how much I can do in any given day without interruption; and the dogs haven’t even bothered me since I started writing, which is nothing short of miraculous). I can read quick posts. I can write quick posts (or longer ones) and not get irritated by the constant interruptions. And, while I’m doing all this? I’m staying connected, however strongly or loosely, to my circles.

Before blogging (the original social media?) my circles were pretty small and my voice wasn’t much bigger. Through blogging and connecting with other adoption bloggers, my circles grew. So did my voice. I mean, it was always there in my head, blabbering away while hiding from almost everybody else (I kinda envy those of you with quiet, wordless minds), but something about anonymously blogging helped me give myself permission to use my voice a little more out loud, with actual people in my actual presence.

But that’s not my point (though the fact that I achieved some personal growth through social media is not an insignificant point). My point is: my circles grew. My circles grew a lot, and whether this person or that person would be considered a weak tie or a strong tie now (because I feel like I have gained and/or been able to maintain/increase strong ties through social media), doesn’t matter. My circles grew, bringing, “new information, advice, and perspectives,” for which I am ugly-cry grateful (no, I’m not currently crying, but I could get there quickly if I’d let myself). The amount of support, advice, and knowledge that I got online during the adoption processes and have gotten since, and not just from adoption connections, is incalculable. From the friend I’ve never met who offered to do anything she could to help if we needed to make an emergency trip to NYC for unexpectedly needed Chinese travel visas, to the attorney I “knew” for a couple years before we needed an in-country adoption lawyer and happened to have just moved one county over from her, to the friends I have both in real life and not who have taken time out of their day to chat with me over private message, to everyone who ever commented on a blog post* and told me I made them laugh, thank you! Bonus thank yous to those who said they spit their beverage out their nose and/or onto their keyboard. You made my day, I swear. But, umm, I am sorry if coffee out the nose hurts or whatever.

(Deep, dark introvert confession: I grew up reading Dave Barry in the newspaper and always wanted his job, but I didn’t think I was funny. It’s not that I didn’t think I was funny enough, but that I didn’t think I was funny at all. I know I’m not funny enough. Even deeper? I didn’t think I was supposed to want to be funny.)

We are now, by the way, hours from when my fingers began prattling on.

So, is connecting with people in real life ideal? Probably, though my experiences would lead me to believe that connecting with people online is pretty smashing, actually. I’d rather spend an hour chatting and laughing with some of my online friends than spend an hour in the actual company of some people I’ve met/known in person. Does that make me weird? If you said, “Yes!” then, newsflash, you’re judge-y! Welcome to the human race.

Would I be a big blob of depressed, isolated goo without social media? Definitely, especially since we keep moving, and I? Am not a mover. Starting over is not an adventure for me. It is more of a punishment that, quite frankly, I don’t deserve; but at least it helps me expand my circles.

Do I aspire to be one of those people who texts friends that are standing right next to me in a social situation rather than making eye contact and speaking the words with my mouth? No. In fact, one of the best parts of making friends online is getting to meet some of them as we road trip around the country. Writing this reminds me of the time that a hotel we had booked in Nebraska turned out to be scary-filthy, with a bathtub containing what looked like watered-down blood that had dripped, and was still dripping, from the ceiling above it. When I posted pictures on social media, I had, as I recall, at least two online friends (I’ve met one of them in real life) tell me they could contact family they had in the area-ish (because it’s Nebraska, folks) who could probably put us up for the night. We were actually able to find another hotel, but still. Weak ties? Strong ties? Who cares? That was awesome either way.

I think Jessica Pan and her experts are right. There is a lot of life-changing amazingness out there just waiting for us in our “weak” ties, and we have the chance to be some life-changing amazingness for others, even if they aren’t our BFFs.

If you’re an extrovert whose life is conducive to getting out there and actually meeting a crap ton of people, yay for you. Go for it! If you’re a middle-aged introvert who finds you have somehow been complicit in engineering your life into years of being held prisoner by your dedication to homeschool, a wall-eating dog with separation anxiety that you didn’t want in the first place, and moving too much?

Wait. That was oddly specific.

What I meant to say was, I ❤️ my circles. Thank you for being you.

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