Today is my birthday.
This in and of itself is not usually a point of interest. My years on this earth have been spread over many countries, many states, many cities, many schools, many jobs. But today, the reason this strikes a chord is because this is a different kind of birthday, and deserves a nod.
I’ve said it before: I am a loner. I don’t make close friends because I don’t stick around. I mean, I’m nice enough but, you know, that’s about it. Growing up, it was pretty much my sister and I. Birthdays were celebrated with the family. When I went off on my own, I lived in New York City and had my first taste of friendship. A close knit group, a couple of us were January babes, and would celebrate together. It felt good, and I miss that.
I think people need to feel special. Like we matter to somebody. When we feel as though we belong to a group, we tend to contribute to that group. We become invested. If they care about us, then we care about them. We are smart, we humans. We know when we are embraced as part of a community, and we know when we’re not. Whether it’s a sixth sense, whether it’s good sense, we just know. It’s called authenticity, and it’s what makes us trust each other. (Sometimes people have feelings. I’m referring here to… people.)
This, in my mind, is why social media matters. Call it the truth of the signal.
Social media is the first venue where we, as individuals, matter. With social media, each of us has a reach like we’ve never had before. We don’t have to be a politician, or a rock star, or a socialite in order to be heard. Social media gives us a voice and a reach. And we can make a difference. A very real, honest-to-God difference. So much so that the power of social media can make the conventional powers that be a bit nervous. (You’re unpredictable, Mal. You run when you oughtta fight. Fight when you oughtta deal. It makes a business person a little twitchy.) I am not the professional voice on twitter. I talk about work, but I also talk about people. And more important, I talk to people. Rarely do I talk at people. I find it insulting and fake, especially when I’m forever espousing the value of integrity and authenticity.
Some will tell you that the message is the thing in social media. I grant you, social media can be an effective way to send a message to people but, if that’s all you use social media for, you’re not really getting the full benefit of the medium. You are focusing on your message, and not the people. This is the wrong focus. You must focus first on the people and hear what matters to them, because then they’ll hear your message. Social media, remember?
I have this (relatively well behaved) argument a lot. You can even say I get a little excitable over it. Because it is a truth that I feel at the very core of my being. You must care first about the people. Because we know, you see. We can tell when your tweets are aimed at us rather than to us. I follow a lot of people on twitter, and one or two of them follow me. I follow the people I follow for a lot of reasons. I can tell you which of these people ring true, and which are out there more to forward their agenda. I don’t begrudge the folk who are forwarding their agenda if it can be useful to me. I follow a number of groups or organizations because I want to know what they’re doing. But these are not my peeps, as one would say. The people who ring true to me use Twitter the same way I do: for both professional input, but also to connect with people as people. Sometimes we have bad days. Sometimes a family member is doing poorly. Sometimes we have a huge accomplishment. Sometimes we’re ridiculously happy. Sometimes we have a facepalm moment. This is life. If you’re only focused on the professional, I can appreciate you on a professional level, but I cannot connect with you on a personal level. I respect your work knowledge, but I can’t connect with you, the person. No matter how much you know.
I think this is why some people give up on social media. Why they can’t see the value of a platform like twitter. They don’t stay on long enough to become a part of their community, to engage others, to expose some of themselves so that a level of authenticity can be reached with their community. Some may have a hard time revealing their heart; they may give out some personal bits, but they always seek to be the professional voice. This is incredibly useful when you are using social media as the official voice of an institution. It makes me appreciate you on an official level. But it doesn’t make me care about you. Worry about you. Even love you. But when you engage with me on an authentic level, ain’t no force in the ‘verse can stop me from caring about you.
And now to bring this around full circle. Because today is my birthday. I don’t talk about my birthday, because it never really seems to matter to anyone but me. But apparently other people do care about my birthday and were determined not to let it go unnoticed. Beginning at 07:37 this morning, I started getting Happy Birthday wishes from my Twitter peeps. Not just one or two, mind you, but enough that my iPhone’s Boxcar notifier sounded like a popcorn machine. Over 40 tweets this morning alone, about my birthday in one form or another. Even more on Facebook. And these birthday wishes are from people who I’ve grown close to, who matter to me, because they are part of my ‘verse. It makes me irrationally happy and it affirms that I belong to this group. Do I value social media? You bet I do. People need to feel special. Like we matter to somebody. When we belong, we contribute, we become invested, and other people matter.
You might have noticed while reading this post that I’m Firefly fan. It’s true. I have a weakness for Mal because, while he’s a loner, he exposes enough of himself to make me care. But even though he’s only a well developed (!!) character, his insights always ring true. He’s often my inspiration and I like to think I follow his first rule of flying as I fly through my (twitter)’verse:
“Love. Can know all the math in the ‘verse, but take a boat in the air that you don’t love? She’ll shake you off just as sure as a turn in the worlds. Love keeps her in the air when she oughtta fall down…tell you she’s hurtin’ ‘fore she keens…makes her a home.”
Thank you, my friends, for the warm wishes. You make me unbelievably happy to know I belong to our community, and make it feel like home. Trust me. It’s from the heart.