I enjoy going to the grocery store. There are few places where all types of people converge together in this ritualistic scavenger hunt for nutrition. I love to people watch while I fill my cart with various food and household items. This is an good example of an unconnected world in action where anonymity prevails (except for the occasional friend or neighbor).
You know how sometimes in a store you end up in a parallel loop of shopping with someone else? You go up one isle as they come down the same isle. Then you repeat on the next isle, and so on..... You reach for the same tangerines or apples, then see each other again while buying wine. Well I had that experience with a woman who was buying more items than any one one family could consume in a month (but her full cart is not the point of this story). She was wearing a t-shirt that read:
"I > U"
The first few times I passed her it made me laugh inside. But the ninth or tenth time we crossed paths I became annoyed with this woman. Granted she had no idea of my disdain for her clothing choice, but she started to symbolize much of what is wrong with society.
I am sure she was innocent, and did not really see herself as superior to all she passed (well, I am actually not sure of this), but the more I thought about it, too many people view others as beneath them. Look around, most people you pass feel no connection to those around them, and maybe just a little better than the rest of us.
And then my faith in humanity was restored. Last night I attended a pre-party for the SXSW Interactive Conference at Mohawk (a local bar). I am honored to be speaking at the conference in March, and decided I should drop by the party and check it out. It was a beautiful night for an outdoor event (Yes, 70 degrees on a February night.... you gotta love living in Austin... except for that thing called August).
Over 200 people showed up to meet and mingle. I connected with dozens of interesting (and very smart) new people. Nobody had the "I am greater than you" attitude, as every attendee was there to have a good time and network. SXSW Interactive draws an eclectic crowd and this local pre-party was foreshadowing of how amazing the five day conference will be next month.
I was taken with the equal footing that entrepreneurs, writers, PhD's, electrical engineers, marketers and trendy-haired college students shared. I met, in person, several local folks whose blogs I read regularly or that I follow on Twitter. It was interesting to meet these folks for the first time, and yet to somehow feel comradeship since we read each other's online properties. This was a sneak peek at into how the popularity of social on-line media is changing the social fabric of society.
The equal footing and familiarity that on-line social media creates can make for a different experience. While I do not believe that on-line relationships can replace the humanity of a face-to-face meeting, it can certainly fast track the bonding between those that share interests.
The benefits from creating on-line communities are continuing to amaze and delight me. At first I thought that social on-line media would drive people apart by falsely making people believe they could avoid building and cultivating real connections. However, when used properly these on-line tools can enhance networking. These communities do not stop at the computer, but instead bleed over into the physical world, where real people find real similarities. And it is just beginning.
Individuals and companies are just starting to see the possibilities. The world is flat. We are all just people trying to make our own way on this big blue ball. I=U.... but I+U=Infinite Possibilites!!! Fasten your seat belts.
Have A Great Day.