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Do digital friendships soon replace real life ones?

Remember the first personal computers and consoles creeping into our living rooms in the 80s? People used to play video games alone and latter with some friends. I still remember the Street Fighter, Mario Kart and Secret of Mana sessions on the good old Super Nintendo  Nowadays, digital interactions are an integral part of our lives. Yet which value do they add and which risks are associated with them? Let’s look at this phenomenon in an ExperienceZone manner.

Opportunities of digital networks

Quo vadis digitalization? If you’re born before Y2K, you might be equally stunned about the speed digital infused our lives. Today, we´re using online communities to connect, communicate (duh, guess why the words are similar), and interact. Mind LinkedIn’s success story. Also, we’re spending a large amount of time on these platforms. I read that every human being is in average 20 times and in total 20 minutes on Facebook. Recently more than 1 billion people have been on Facebook at the same time. The servers must have been running hot! Great traction stats for Mark Zuckerberg and his gang. By the way: ExperienceZone is an online network too. We’re not striving for the same results though. More below.

So, let’s summarize the advantages of digital platforms:

  1. Information at your fingertips: Online networks give me a lot of information just in time. Facebook tells me that Bob has his birthday tomorrow. Thanks to modern technology, I can draft a personal note beforehand and schedule it to be send out tomorrow. Also, I might be able to copy the event to my calendar and be reminded next year in advance that I can even buy him a present. This feature doesn’t exist yet? Mark, that’s today’s gift for you. My pleasure. Also, I know where Tina is and what she has for lunch (although I might not be sincerely interested).
  2. Efficiency of interaction: If I don’t know or like Bob that much or if I just don’t have time (which is of course never an excuse), I can write “Happy B-Day” on his wall. If some of my other “friends” have birthday on that same day, I can even copy the note and post it on their walls too. That’s the gold standard of time-efficiency. Now, if Bob is impressed by my note (against all odds), he might invite me to his birthday dinner with his spouse Tina. Since I’m living really far away from these guys, I’ll dial in via Skype to the menage a troi and have my own dinner at home during the video conference. Ok, I might exaggerate here, yet these scenario might not be too far off.
  3. Non-binding nature: Yeah, I got 700+ Facebook friends. Quite frankly: I wouldn’t consider most of them as real friends (sorry guys). Most of them I met at places I traveled and we stay in touch since then. Others just added me to their buddy list without ever meeting me. It surely was my handsome profile picture… Joke aside: I accepted requests from strangers just because I was too lazy to ask where we know each other from or feared that I’ve forgotten that we actually met each other yet I just don’t know where and when anymore. Bottom line, it doesn’t hurt to have more or less friends in online networks, since these relationships as well as most content you’re posting is of non-binding nature.

Don’t believe the hype!

But where there’s light, there’s shadow. Online networking can make you addicted without adding any value. Like a rocket-chair it keeps you busy but leads to nowhere. Worst case, you spend too much time in the digital world and get socially isolated in the real one. Hence, here’re my recommendations to manage digital networks effectively:

  1. Which digital networks add value? Think twice about which digital networks you want to be part of. Do you really need a Twitter, Facebook, G+, Pinterest, Instagram etc. account? Think about which ones are aligned to your mission and aims in life? Where are your friends? Which networks represent communities you want to contribute to?
  2. Which people do you want to engage with? Also, think about with whom you want to engage with. Learn from my experiences: Don’t accept all friend requests (of course a picture of a beautiful girl might flatter you and make you press the “accept” button, yet this might be a fake profile). Strive to have a narrow and deep rather than a broad and shallow social network. At ExperienceZone we considered to limit the amount of travel mates (or friends in Facebook lingo) to 30, as we believe that this is the maximum amount of true friends you can have. We might pick this one up again. Also, we strive to have a rather small yet active community of people who really want to make a difference.
  3. How much time you want to spend in the digital world? Writing each other is the most efficient yet ineffective form of communication, whilst face-to-face is the most effective whilst admittedly most inefficient type. But communication is all about effectiveness. Don’t sacrifice it on the altar of efficiency. Set a daily time limit for digital interactions. At ExperienceZone (formerly known as GodBoy), we started with a 30 minutes time limitation for users. Why? We wanted them to spend their time in the real world rather than in the digital life.

Why communication is the glue of relationships

Human relationships are build on trust. Trust comes from frequent communication. Also, openness and honesty creates intimacy. Before engaging in more “duh, tell me something I don’t know” buzzword bingo, let’s dig into the roots of these truisms. Why is communication paramount to human relationships? I’ll explain it the ExperienceZone way.

Humans are gregarious and thus social beings

We’re designed to live in groups. In fact, our survival depended on the goodwill of others already in the stone age. Men went out to hunt together. They needed to rely on their fellows to make a kill instead of being becoming a prey. Tough times… Women gathered fruit and passed on knowledge from one generation to the other about which fruit & vegetables are eatable and therewith feed the family and which ones poison the hungry family members.

Since then the risks lurking on our life paths have certainly decreased, yet we still need other people to become successful – in private and professional life. Evidence can be found in the animal kingdom. Just go into a zoo and study our closest relatives. Apes interact which each other the whole day! Those being isolated from the group begin to suffer mentally, emotionally and physically (in this sequence).

Communication is the bridge between us

Similar to other higher developed species, humans developed body language and over time verbal communication. Meantime, we’ve invented hundreds of languages with thousands of words. The most sophisticated communication techniques ever created on this planet (probably in the entire universe). We even call one who speaks more than two languages a genius. Certainly not me, as my German and English are rather average… Anyway, the more complex our languages became, the better we were able to express our feelings, air our ideas or get our points across. Communication is therewith a tool to tell the other person about ourselves. Since this usually happens between two people or more (unless you’re talking to yourself, which too can be functional in certain situations), it’s at least a two way street: We listen to what Bob experienced on the weekend. We learn about him and his family spending time together. We can ask him to tell us more or catch the ball and elaborate on our leisure time activities. This way, we exchange personal information and build trust eventually. The more we talk to each other, the more information gets shared. The more gets shared, the better we get to know the other person and the more effectively we’re able to build rapport or enrich ideas.

The key ingredients of effective communication

Yeah, there’re countless books about communication. So I won’t drain you with the things you take for granted (yet might not apply in daily life). My intention is to make you reflect how you communicate at the moment and how you want to engage with others to become successful. Success in terms of communication is to get what you want. Verbal interaction always has the objective to be understood. In most cases it is about selling yourself and your ideas. How do you do this best?

  1. Know your style. This requires you to run a personality analysis. Now you might experience a deja-vu: “Hey, this guy almost always comes up with this first point!” Busted. Guilty as charged. Nonetheless is self-reflection an highly effective approach. Reason being, you need to know your natural communication tendencies before you can change them. The die-hard-continuum of all personal transformations is a) gain clarity about the current state (that usually starts with you as a person), b) define the target state and c) determine measures to get from where you are to where you want to be. Makes sense?
  2. Seek to understand. Listen before you speak. Why’s that important? The more information you get about the other person and her ideas, the more raw material for your response or decision, you’re able to gather. By the way: Just keeping your mouth shut is not listening (most people just use this break to already think about what they want to reply rather than really listen). Latter requires you to understand what the communication partner actually means. Meaning can differ from the words being said. So you need to be able to read between the verbal lines. The tonality, facial expressions and body language give you valuable clues about what moves the other person.
  3. Seek to be understood. Communication is about the listener. Don’t dump your ideas as fast as possible into someone else head. Instead, plant them with care. I recently talked pretty fast and in complex lingo about nutritional science.  What I received is raising eyebrows, which told me that my counterpart barely understood anything I wanted to get across. So, speak slowly and use terms which resonate with the other person. If you’re in doubt about the social style of the listener, I recommend simple words wrapped into short sentences. Enough said, em written, go out and practice to become a better communicator!

Who’s more important: Your family or friends?

A crucial question. You might scream: “Of course my family!” Maybe morally the most appropriate answer. Yet I recently read a study, which shows a different picture: Relationships to friends are for certain people more important than those to family members. Why’s that? Let’s dive into this one and extract implications for you in an ExperienceZone manner.

The rise of friendships

In the last decades, our world got more complex and seems to be spinning faster. Reason being technical and social developments. Whilst we worship individualism, we depreciate human relationships. This can lead to social isolation and depression. Former I felt in my early twenties, when I accomplished one personal goal after another yet disregarded my family & friends. Recognition led to reanimation of relationships, which fell asleep for some years.

Egocentricity often comes with efficiency. Four interesting phenomenons:

  1. Family members are perceived as necessary evil. “Ok, I’m tied to these guys since my parents made me and my siblings are of the same breed biologically. But that doesn’t mean that we need to spend time together. I don’t owe them anything. On top of that, familiar relationships don’t add value to my life per se.” Although I’m exaggerating, the traditional family model seems to be eroding in many parts of the world. The growing number of divorces, patchwork families and single households seem to be cause and result at the same time.
  2. Friendships satisfy the natural human need for social interactions. Like-minded people we know for many years or met along our life journeys are golden for goal-getters and ordinary opportunists alike. Women value their friends to have an open ear for emotional topics and men like to share hobbies with their buddies. Best case friends lift us up when we’re down, give us open and honest feedback as well as lend their clothes if we need a new dress though can’t afford to buy one.
  3. Communication channels depend on the geographical distance. When our friends live far away, we praise Skype and WhatsApp for engaging with them digitally. In case our friends live nearby, modern technology is perceived as a curse rather than the holy grail. Let’s meet face-to-face and talk things through!
  4. Soft-opposites attract. Similar to partners, we value friends with complementary personalities. Different world-views are being perceived as enriching. Yet if you’re a republican and I’m a democrat, chances are slim that we’ll go along for a long time.

Ergo, familiar relationships and friendships are different by nature

Let’s face it: Your family members cannot replace your friends and vice versa. Why should they? Instead of playing relationship quartet, leverage the upsides of both “institutions”:

  1. Appreciate the fact that you’ve a family. Be grateful towards your parents for producing you. Also, they’ve nurtured, raised and educated you. If you admit it or not: Your father and mother do have a huge stake in who you are today. Period.
  2. Select a few good friends. Those you can trust. People who inspire or even empower you. Folks who’ve skills you admire and who can teach you something. Soft-opposites if you want. Seek for a narrow and deep rather than broad and shallow circle of friends. Guilty a charged, I need to “clean” my 700+ facebook buddy list one day.
  3. Foster the relationships to family members and friends. Apply the trust formula. Use premium fertilizer as described in the countries social network, family and friends on ExperienceZone. Give first before you expect something in return. That’s what I call intelligent egoism.

Why are we happier in company than alone?

For many years I went through life with a helmet on my head, a shield in front of my chest, and a sword in my hand. Hell ya, I slayed a lot of dragons. Seen great places. Traveled almost the world. Been there done that. Being independent and successful is great. You don’t need to rely on anyone else. You accept full responsibility for yourself. You charge all failures and achievements on your own account. No one is holding you back…

Yet I experienced that we’re gregarious animals.

Ok, you might argue that we aren’t animals at all. Let’s not go down that road but agree that we’re not islands. Instead, we’re social beings. I learned it the hard way. After years of fighting outside dragons and inside demons, I recognized emptiness. Social isolation. Friends lived on their own lives. Got married. Children. It seems like nature designed us in a way that we generate happiness through social interactions. Prove can be found in the animal kingdom. Just go into a zoo and watch our closes relatives, apes, who’ve got a 98.5% genetic makeup match with human beings. These little guys engage in social interactions the whole day! They play games, they practice mutual physical hygiene, they sometimes fight, and have sex.

This world bears a gazillion of opportunities. Let’s take them together!

Learning and growing doesn’t only make more fun but is also more effective in a group. If you share experiences with others, you’ve something to talk about thereafter. It might sound corny, yet if you keep in mind that communication is the glue of relationships, you need to have subjects in store. Go into the park with your family, have a nice dinner with your partner, party with your friends, visit a playground with your children, and spend some quality time with your parents. Keep your solitude time to read, concentrate and design. Yet have regular touch points with the most important people in your social network every week.

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