The Kindness of Strangers

Tennessee Williams
“Whoever you are, I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.” – A Street Car Named Desire by Tennessee Williams

It is so often stated that it has become a truism of sorts that on-line interactions, particularly those via social media, displace what is termed “real world” or “face to face” interactions. My view is that this perspective, rather than being self-evidently true, is actually apocryphal. I am sure that there are examples of people who have become more isolated (in a physical sense) through use of social media; those who are engaged in a zero-sum game where time spent on-line is at the expense of being around other humans. Most communications media can be accused of the same thing, though I am not aware that anyone ever told Jane Austen to stop wasting her time writing letters and instead get out and meet people. It wasn’t so long ago that people, particularly younger people, were berated for spending so much time on the ‘phone; even back when those were connected to a wall socket by a wire. The same barbs were thrown (and still are) at what we now call Video Games; another area which I admit has occupied a lot of my time in other periods of my life.

There is however a different way of looking at this supposed issue. As I explain in my now rather antiquated review of the Twitterverse:

I have been involved in running web-sites and various on-line communities since 1999.

[…]

I think that Twitter.com[1] can be an extremely useful way of interacting with people, expanding your network and coming into contact with interesting new people.

– Taken from New Adventures in Wi-Fi – Track 2: Twitter April 2010

I have indeed come in to contact with a wide range of different people through my, admittedly rather intermittent, use of what we now call social media. Importantly, a lot of these people are based in parts of the world, or even parts of my own country, where our paths would have been unlikely to cross. I suppose that a case could be made that any time I spend writing or reading blog articles, or talking to people on Twitter or LinkedIn, could instead have been more profitably employed sitting on a barstool; perhaps in the hope that someone with complementary interests would start talking to me. However, this does seem to be a doubtful assertion to make. As with most things in life (except chocolate of course) balance is the key. If you spend all of your time on social media (or indeed all of your time in bars) you will rule out some social experiences. If instead you spend some time on social media as part of a healthy, balanced diet, then this should lead to a wider range of associates and sometimes even friends. It is also a pretty frictionless way to find people who are passionate about the things that you are passionate about; or indeed to find out why people are passionate about areas that you think might be interesting.

I mention above that – despite the observations I make later in the same paragraph – my own use of social media has been sporadic[2]. Having made some progress in understanding some elements of the area in an earlier stage of its evolution, jumping back in as I am doing now can feel a little daunting. These fears have been somewhat ameliorated by reconnecting with a lot of people, who still seem interested in me and what I have to say[3]. I have also connected with some new people and acknowledging this second occurrence is the actual purpose of this article.
 
 
twelveskip

First, I’d like to offer thanks to Ontario-based Pauline Cabrera (@twelveskip) of twelveskip.com. Pauline describes herself thus on Twitter:

Savvy Digital Strategist / Blogger / Web Designer / Virtual Assistant (http://GeekyVA.com). I dig #SEO, blogging, social media & content marketing.

I found Pauline’s web-site when I was thinking about sprucing up my Twitter header and looking for some advice[4]. Pauline’s observations were clear and helpful, but while I get by OK in creating images (both in a business context and with many of the diagrams on this site), I am not a graphic designer. Given Pauline’s greater experience, I decided to reach out to her. The fruits of this interaction can now be viewed on my Twitter site, @peterjthomas.

Pauline and I reached a commercial arrangement, so I’m not here referring to the kindness of strangers always meaning doing stuff for free. However, while I am sure many other people provide the services that Pauline does, I’m equally confident that very few do it with such speed and professionalism. When you couple these attributes with her being ultra-friendly and displaying an evident delight in doing what she does, you end up with someone it is a pleasure to do business with.

I mentioned that Pauline resides in Canada, I live in the UK, we wouldn’t have bumped into each other without those modern inventions of the Internet, search engines, web-sites and (the subject of the search that allowed me to find Pauline) Twitter.
 
 
Michael Sandberg's Data Visualization Blog

Second, I recently composed an article with a Data Visualisation theme and as part of researching this looked at a number of blogs covering this area. One that stood out was Michael Sandberg’s Data Visualization Blog. Michael describes himself thus:

My main work-related areas of interest are in developing self-service interactive, dynamic reports for Web and Mobile (most notably iPad). I currently develop using MicroStrategy in the Cloud with Netezza.

Michael and I also share a mutual connection in Cindi Howson (@BIScorecard) of BI Scorecard. Despite this, I had not been aware of Michael’s work until recently. I did however connect with him via his web-site. Today he has been kind enough to feature the data visualisation piece I wrote on his blog. It is always gratifying when a fellow professional thinks that your work merits sharing with their network.

In this case, Michael is based in Arizona. The chances of us bumping in to each other, except though us both blogging, would have been slim as well.
 
 
Simon Barnes Author

The final person that I would like to mention is Simon Barnes, the award-winning sports and wildlife author and journalist. I based my recent blog article, Ten Million Aliens – More musings on BI-ology, on his book of a similar name. Aside from his articles for various newspapers being published on-line, Simon has not been noted for his social medial presence until recently. This has now been remedied via his blog Simon Barnes Author and Twitter account, @SimonBarnesWild; Simon has been using the former to showcase chapters from his book.

The kindness that I wanted to point out here is the diligence with which Simon responds to comments on his site. Of course, on a personal note, there is always a frisson of excitement when someone whose work you admire and who is also something of a public figure in the UK replies to you directly as Simon has to me. Politeness and consideration for others pre-date the Internet of course, but treating people reasonably gets you a long way in social media. As Simon seems to do this naturally, I am sure this characteristic will stand him in good stead.

I can’t claim that Simon lives a long way from me, his home in Norfolk is pretty adjacent to my current one in Cambridge. However, despite having read his articles for years, it was only once Simon established a web presence that the opportunity to correspond opened up.
 
 
So, in the couple of weeks during which I have dipped my toe back into the social media water, I have had the privilege to connect (in a number of different ways) with the three people that I mention above. Each of Pauline, Michael and Simon are on-line for different reasons and each have different things to say about very different areas. However, I am interested in what each of them does, as are many other people around the world. It’s hard to imagine an easier way in which I could have formed connections with these three people, one from Canada, one from the US and one from my native UK, than via the Internet and – in these cases – Twitter and Blogging. I think these are useful facts to remember in the face of accusations that social media makes people insular, closed-off and lonely. It may do that to some people, but this is a million miles away from my own experiences and – I strongly suspect – those of many of the people who are now able to access a wider world through their keyboards or touchscreens.
 
 
Notes

 
[1]
 
The “.com” was still in use back in 2010
 
[2]
 
This is something that I cover in another earlier article: Four [Social Media] Failures and a Success. The section describing the first failure (in this case a personal one) begins:

Failure 1 – Thinking that you can dip in and out of Social Media

Articles per month

 
[3]
 
Probably strongly correlated to me being interested in what they have to say of course.
 
[4]
 
I think that the actual search terms were the rather prosaic “twitter header dimensions“.

 

 

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s