I’m only part human. I know you’ve been wondering this since you first saw me tweet, since you became my friend on Facebook. And I am ready to tell you that yes, your suspicions are correct. I am a cyborg.
But so are you. Scholars, technology specialists, and other people who know a lot, have been making this argument for awhile. Amber Case discussed this in a TED talk in December of 2010: technology is changing the way we think. We are all cyborgs.
The point of this blog is not to lament the changes that are taking place in our brains, or to artificially crank up the nostalgia for some Olden Days When Everything Was Perfect, when tweets were the sounds a bird makes, and a poke was a painful jab to the ribs from your big brother. Instead, I want to talk about why, despite how plugged in we are, human connections are still so important to our work and lives.
Last week three of us from Commerce Kitchen were lucky enough to go to an amazing web marketing conference in Seattle. For three whole days we watched over a dozen speakers present on ideas and techniques that have made them successful at internet marketing.
Now, I read a lot of SEO blogs. I follow SEO conversations on Twitter, I read books on SEO, and I analyze other SEO companies’ strategies. But being in the presence of experts, hearing them talk, watching them in person was more valuable to me than hundreds of pages of SEO tips.
I came back from the conference so inspired, brimming over from a constant flow of creativity, that I couldn’t even sleep for three nights. I was lying in bed, frantically typing up my ideas on my iPhone so that I wouldn’t forget them. And I know I’m not alone. On Twitter, there were hundreds of tweets describing situations like mine: web marketers across the country were on fire with inspiration.
Yes, it was an exceptional conference, and yes, some conferences, frankly, suck. But I strongly believe that a big part of why I was more motivated by this conference than I am by books or blogs, is that the human connection–seeing people in person, connecting in person–allows us to better incorporate information.
And not just that. Connecting with other people, with living, breathing humans, can help us understand each other so much better. I’m sure many of you have received a text message or an email that you radically misinterpreted–either because you didn’t catch the sarcasm, it had an unfortunate typo, or there were too many exclamation points. (!!!!)
I love social media. Well, I love/hate it. I love the connections, hate the hatefulness. I love the creativity, hate the mind numbness that comes from staring at your feed for too long. Social media isn’t going to go away, but we shouldn’t fear that it will eliminate our desire to connect. We may be cyborgs, but the -org part of that word means that there’s still enough human left in us to need each other.
I’d like to admit something. I’m socially awkward and moderately shy, though you’d be surprised at how often I end up on stage. Social media and blogging are perfect for me in some ways because I can just wallow alone in my awkwardness and not have to worry about relating to other people. So it’s is a good thing I’m not the person you talk to on the phone when you call Commerce Kitchen (Tynan is brilliant at connecting, by the way).
However, I understand the value of being able to communicate one-on-one. Our clients are loyal to us, not just because we totally kick ass at what we do, but because we take the time to talk, to relate, to brainstorm with them. When we’ve met our clients in person–shaken their hands, smiled at them–we feel we can do better work.
Does meeting them in person have anything to do with the website for the product or service we’re helping them market? No. But connecting with them in this way somehow transforms the relationship into something much richer and more collaborative.
Here’s my bit of advice. Grow your social networks online by growing your social networks. Use Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn to make connections with real people, with the intention of actually meeting them someday. Join a Meetup. Go to networking events. Invite your vendors and partners to lunch. Throw your employees a party.
And most importantly, connect more with the community you already have. This is not only good for business, but it’s good for your own well being. Volunteer with a local organization. Find out what issues your city council is discussing. No matter what your personality is, you will find other people like you, and people you can learn from, in your community.
Finally, I encourage everyone to practice teaching something you know really well. Presenting at conferences and events can do amazing things for your business. It will showcase your expertise and put a human face to your brand or product. There are hundreds of opportunities a year for small business owners to connect with one another. Making the effort to present yourself as an expert will help SEO, and will greatly increase community trust in you.
Being a cyborg is different than I thought it would be. I don’t have tubes and wires coming out of my spine. While my brain relies on a web of technology to do some of its thinking, I still know how to walk, eat, and laugh with my daughter, all by myself.
But most importantly, I still find fulfillment in those moments when I turn my phone off, shut my laptop, and sit on my porch with a friend, listening to the birds tweet in the trees.
If you’re socially awkard like me, but want to be better at presenting and communicating, check out these two organizations below. Full disclosure: the first one is one of our clients, whose weekend service seminar we took before he was a client. The second one is my aunt, an amazing and talented woman who trains people all over the world how to communicate better. And she spends most of her free time volunteering in her community, so she completely embodies the characteristics I wrote about above.