Surfing in Wisconsin

“Social media sites create an illusion of connectivity” — Malay Shah

“We don’t have a choice on whether we DO social media, the question is how well we do it.” — Erik Qualman

“You have friends all over the world; you just haven’t met them yet” –Couchsurfing.org

I can go on and on with quotes about social media. We have a lot to say on this subject. There’s information to suggest that 55% of people throughout the WORLD use social media. There is NOTHING ELSE in the entire world that 55% of people agree on (other than needing oxygen, food, and water). And I’m thinking that this phenomenon has something to do with us feeling more lonely and disconnected.

I’ve noticed in recent interactions online, I feel empty. It felt like my interactions on social media were more about the “media” than the “social”. This led me to make a decision. I have decided to use Facebook only for groups and events now. Trying to avoid my feed as much as possible. Why? Because it’s not really social there. My feed is a bunch of information being thrown into the world; thrown at the wall by my friends and family. It reminds me of advertising in a magazine. We tend to just flip through it until we find something for us. It has nothing to do with connecting.

Anyway, I’m moving most of my social to groups and in person meetings. Last night was a good example. I used the Couchsurfing app to find a Twin Cities event that happens every week. This community has created great friendships and memory makers. Couchsurfing is a way to travel on the cheap and really see the world through the eyes of others. The idea is that you can lend your couch (or guest room or air mattress or floor) to a traveler or two. They, in turn, teach you something or hang out and offer the same couch service to others if they can. It’s a great way to find travel partners and new friends. I highly recommend you check it out.

Back to my experience with this website/app; Jeremy and I joined the site years ago, when it was in its infancy. When we checked it out first, it was an interesting idea, but not something that had hit any kind of stride yet. There was no one around us that used it and only a small handful of people in the places we were looking to travel to. We also had almost no friends who were willing to write us a reference. We filled out our whole profile and got as verified as we could without paying anything. Then we forgot about our profile there. When Airbnb came out, we touched base back there, but had no desire to focus enough to try this new concept and learn the new website. Then came the app and his most recent trip.

Currently, Jeremy is in San Diego, CA learning about Watsu. It is a bodywork modality that he’s gotten a new passion for. That passion led him to search out classes so that he can also be a practitioner of water therapy and help even more of his clients with their mental and physical illnesses. When we were planning his trip, the question of what I would do for 2 weeks without him came up. Would I still come home every night if I didn’t have to? Did I really want to keep travelling 52 miles one way each day for work? No to both. I wanted to stay closer to work so that I could drive less and enjoy my extra hours in the day.

Couchsurfing came to mind when we were booking his Airbnb stay there. Why couldn’t I stay on someone’s couch close to home? That way, if something was shady, I could just go home instead. I didn’t know anyone and I didn’t know the tricks to convince a host to let me stay. But I did know how to find local events on the app. I joined an event last night for the first time. My first time actually being able to use the app helped out a lot.

First of all, everyone that joined this event online actually showed up, plus a few that hadn’t joined. This is a new concept for us Facebook users. When we have 5 “yes” answers and 15 “maybe” answers, we expect 2 attendees. Events get lost in the turmoil of the feed. So, our social on FB can turn into that feed thing again. On Couchsurfing, there’s no feed really. The events are front and center; the interactions with real people become the focus. You can’t forget when the event feed is constantly reminding you that you have something coming up.

Second, all of these people value interaction. Why would you sign up on a site to be hosted or host someone if you didn’t care about the interactions? They want in person meetings, hugs, and sharing a drink. That interaction is what taught me that short “trips” are better than long ones. I had posted a 2 week hosting opportunity on my trip, hoping to stay close to work for 2 full weeks. Yet, I have Tuesday class that I would need to go home for and Wednesdays I have a standing time to stay with a friend already. Plus, my mom is coming up for a conference at one point and I plan to stay with her for 2 days. So, that breaks my “staying” down to a few short trips. I have thus changed my trips to a few short ones. Hoping this leads to a stay or two. I’m still hoping to interact with one person or more during the times that I’d like to not have to drive to work.

Third, references are important. Interaction and connection are vulnerable experiences. Having someone tell you that another person is good can be a big anxiety reducer. We already do this for people!! How many times do you vouch for someone in your life? “Oh yeah, I do know Troy. He’s a great guy” when your best single friend tells you that she met someone who knows you. “Kelly and I used to work together. Glad you met her.” “John and I went to school together.” There are ways on the Couchsurfing app to do this. There’s personal references, host references, and traveler references. You may have a great place to stay, but be a slob when staying at others’ places. That can be found on here. You may be great at making friends, but not be able to host anyone at your place. So you’d have no references from people you’ve hosted, but many can vouch that you’re a great person to host at their place. We do this in real life; I like that this community offers the opportunity to do it online as well.

Cutting back on Facebook for my social media experience is a hard thing for me. I have spent hours and hours just scrolling my feed, sharing things that make me laugh or cry or angry. It’s a bad habit that I’d like to break. I don’t want my hobby list to include “spending hours staring at a screen sharing pictures of words”. I’ve had moments like this in the past when I found it particularly good to disconnect. I think this will be a way to find real friends again, instead of 1000 followers that like my dog videos I share. It’s already been wonderful for me. Last night, I loved really connecting with a community of vulnerable people who crave interaction and genuine connection. I’m grateful for their new place in my life.

So, what Apps and events and groups do you use to keep it cheap and still fun? What ways do you really connect with people? How do you contribute to the giant brain we’ve created with the Internet? And how have you contributed to the hands and feet of it that go out and find real interactions? Hopefully, you’ll consider reaching out by staying on my futon. Come and surf in Wisconsin in The Girl Next Door. With that, we’ll see you on the road.

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