It had been nagging me for months, though I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what it was. Things with my work have been going well and keeping me busy, but something didn’t feel quite right.

I know a lot of people, more than I’ve ever known at any other time in my life.  I spend much of my day connecting with them in one way or another. We connect on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, email, IM chat and (surprise, surprise) sometimes we even talk on the telephone. When I say we’re “connecting”, I mean we’re sharing interesting and relevant information, conducting business, and having a bit of fun, too. Just to be clear, none of my time online is spent playing Farmville or Mafia Wars. Because the focus of my work revolves around social media, it isn’t surprising that most of it is done while sitting in front of a computer. When my work does take me away from the computer, it’s usually to speak to a group interested in learning how to use technology to more effectively connect with others.

I found myself thinking about people I missed. Why hadn’t we talked? What was getting in the way? I don’t think technology is the reason I was feeling disconnected from them. It’s too easy to blame computers or the internet.  It couldn’t possibly have been my fault, could it?

Being busy was the reason, or rather feeling busy, and technology is certainly is a major contributor to that sensation. With the always-on connection to our work, news, games and shopping, there is always more to be done. The being/feeling busy wasn’t only happening on my end. I was hearing, “We should definitely plan a time to talk soon, but I’m not available for the next six weeks.” from my friends. Who was in charge of our schedules? How had we (how had I) surrendered our ability to prioritize?

Disconnected. I finally knew what to call it, now what to do about it? While enjoyable in a self-serving, short-term sort of way, pouting and moping just aren’t my style. Don’t have time to drive across town to get together? Live across the country? No problem, I’m going to fix that.

The email I sent telling friends how much I missed them and inviting them to a coffee date via Skype video chat was met with mixed reactions. Since this was something new for me, leveraging technology to fix the problem I had allowed it to help create, I started small and sent the email to a small number of friends. To make it even easier, I included the link to my Tungle account, allowing them to view my calendar and select a convenient time. If they wanted to accept my invitation, there was nothing standing in their way. If they weren’t comfortable with Skype, using the phone was certainly an option.

The not-so-scientific results (so far):

  • 4 friends said: “That’s just too weird, Irene. We should just meet in person.”  To be fair, none of these people spend nearly the amount of time online that I do, so I understand their reaction. (Of those, I got together with two – a definite win! Sadly, I don’t really expect to see the others any time soon – they’re busy.)
  • 4 friends signed themselves up right away (I’ve already had virtual coffee dates with three of them. All fantastic!)
  • 2 friends said they plan to book a time soon. (Of those, I expect one will actually follow through.)
  • There are several people I’ve yet to hear from. I know that a few of them have massively busy mailboxes. The rest of them? Maybe a coffee date with me doesn’t sound that exciting? 🙂

I am so glad that I did this and appreciate that some of my friends were willing to go along with “whatever crazy thing Irene is up to now.” I was able to catch up virtually with an old friend from high school who now has a beautiful family and a fascinating career, a dear friend I met while traveling in Europe in my early 20s (and whom I may have tried to encourage to break a few rules while in East Berlin) who is now doing great things working for the U.S. government in Washington D.C., one of my role models when it comes to community management and a wonderfully supportive friend now working for Google, one of my favorite people since meeting when our kids were in kindergarten together and a smart, politically savvy friend with whom I’ve already got plans to meet up again.

If I call these conversations “real” does that make the online connections any less real? I don’t think so, yet they are different – and important. There was no talk of business, no agenda other than setting aside the time to reconnect and catch-up. I’ve got to say that the video chats were no less warm or genuine than the in-person coffee dates. The only downside – no hugs.

I am going to make a point to set aside time to reconnect with others more frequently. Having the opportunity to look into someone’s eyes and tell them that you care and have been thinking about them (and get the same support and warmth in return) is not something to be left for a day when I’m not busy.

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