The world is a huge place – even your own little section of it can feel overwhelming sometimes. Where are the best places to go, who should I call for a repair, how do I get to know people with the same interests? The days of hanging out at the corner drug store or sipping lemonade together on the porch while neighbors strolled past or stopped to chat are long gone. But the digital world has opened up a whole new arena for connecting and learning that is seemingly unlimited. It’s exciting, but it can be a lot to navigate.
Some people believe social media and online relationships are killing true social experience or fostering relationships that aren’t real. But there are reputable sources that find any shared experience, whether online or face to face, can produce positive effects on our lives. According to Psychology Today – research shows that social media has enhanced relationships, especially for shut-ins and ‘socially avoidant’ people. It can also strengthen our offline relationships and keep folks together when there is a long period between face to face meetings. We can use our online resources to connect and learn about our area or to have shared experiences and enjoy new activities.
For those who want to establish a connection to people and to places in their community, there is a great way to learn and get to know people online that also transfers into actual shared experiences. Using these resources is especially beneficial if it also drives in-person encounters, allows you to find people who can help with a project, recommend a place to sample local craft or try local food, or contribute to the community. It goes well beyond sharing what we ate for lunch, posting photos of our cats, or ranting about our day.
The ability to shrink our world and develop a local online community hinges on discovering sites that keep it close. There can be a touch of risk when engaging people you’ve never met, but hesitation can impair your ability to grow your community relationships and awareness. Keeping it truly local provides a sense of security in many regards.
Recommendation and referral sites offer great advice and information, and if it’s only open to people in your geographical area, chances are many of the people on it have that “6-degrees of separation” or less. Groups that are started by someone who is involved in the community and has a drive to make it a better place can yield meaningful connections and eventually fosters a circle of trust.
There is a group north of Atlanta that limits the number of participants and only allows new members to join via invitations from current members. It’s called The Milton Sweet Tea Society (MSTS) and offers a referral and info site as well as a flea market page where people can post certain items for sale. While most activity is online, often members organize a get-together to discuss issues of interest in the community, or simply to meet other members. Once you receive a recommendation from someone for the best repair company or place to take your bored kids, you feel as though you’ve made a new acquaintance. Unlike larger sites, when a stranger comes to pick up an item you had for sale, you feel safe about making a transaction you’ve organized through the MSTS.
Sites like meetup.com can lead people to others with the same interest and you don’t have to feel as though you’re entering a singles group. From dog-lovers to yoga and outdoor enthusiasts – to foodies, the site has something for everyone. These are only two examples of places where you can create an online connection that is helpful. There are a wealth of others you may find in your area.
Yes, it’s possible to use online sources to have shared experiences, new adventures, and to contribute to the community. The world is big and the internet is overloaded with places to go, but why not use it to improve your network and find a way to keep it close?