A few days ago, I had a profound experience in social media. My phone, dead from a swollen battery, sat in the hands of a geeky Verizon Wireless tech guru who actually looked like the bespectacled dude from the company’s ads. I was cut off from my mobile versions of Twitter, Facebook, Words with Friends, RSS feeds, and even WordPress, not to mention the old-fashioned texting and phone functions of my smart phone. Needless to say, I was a little out of sorts.
The geek commented on my phone number, noting the area code and asking where it was from. San Francisco, I replied. And, like most Midwesterners do, he asked me why I was living in Ohio. Sometimes I dream about this conversation I have it so often, but after explaining to him my circumstances of being exiled from California for several years as my husband pursues his medical training, we started talking about how beautiful my home state is, how he has family living in Santa Cruz, and how much he’d like to move back there. We set up rapport. We laughed, joked about the cost of living differences between the two states, and then it was time for him to give me a diagnosis on my befallen battery.
I needed a new one, and there weren’t any in stock in the region. Not surprising, as this phone is notorious for having a poor battery. “I can order one for you,” he said. I agreed, and he offered me shipping options. This turned into even a more zig-zaggy conversation that meandered through the merits of choosing the USPS instead of UPS or FedEx.
Turns out, this guy loves to find old magazines and comic books that have ads in the back for the reader to cut out and mail in for a free offer. He gathers sometimes decades-old ads, mails them in and waits for a response.
He started telling me all about the many ads he’s cut out from the ’70s and ’80s and how most of them go unanswered. Some come back, Return to Sender, some come back with little notes saying the offer is no longer valid. He sends cash in these envelopes, and he usually gets the cash back, too.
What a fun, wild idea. I thought, and I was so happy to have had this conversation with a random person at the Verizon store that it made me think about all the chit-chat I do on social media—Twitter, Facebook and the like—that is so much less interesting and personal as what I encountered in a face-to-face handful of minutes with this guy.
While social media has its benefits of increasing someone’s network, finding other like-minded people, keeping friends and family members in one neat box where they can easily share photos and snippets from their lives and vice-versa, nothing beats real one-on-one face time with another person—social media 1.0.
Human contact will always be the number-one booster of social capital. It’s what sticks with you, what creates our humanity. And we will never be able to get that through any screen.