When I was a kid, our parents seldom knew our whereabouts as we were free to roam the neighborhood on our own. Sometimes, a bunch of us gathered to play at John and Robin’s house on the swing-set. Sometimes, we headed over to Bobby’s house to play baseball. Often, we bounced from one house to another stirring up whatever minor mischief we could manage (which generally involved kids, a ball and mud). All that mattered was that when our respective mothers stood in their front yards and loudly called our names at dinner time, we knew to appear immediately. As I think back to that time, I used to marvel at the independence we had at such a young age. At second glance, though, I realize we weren’t on our own at all. There was a parent in every home keeping a watchful eye over all, unbeknownst to us. The Woodbine Street parent network was on the job 24/7. The network didn’t have any meetings or rules, but I’m certain the expectations were well understood – your kids are our kids and we’ll watch over them.

Long gone are the days when we personally knew all of our neighbors, let alone our business contacts. Even the smallest businesses regularly deal with customers and vendors they have never met. With the advent of LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and an endless list of other networks, our connections are global. We regularly interact with people we’ve never met and will probably never meet. Still, there can be great value in these relationships creating opportunities which wouldn’t have otherwise existed.

It is very easy to get comfortable with our virtual connections, those we know through online or long-distance communications. Often, we more quickly find ourselves on familiar terms with people we know virtually than we would with those we’ve met in person.

I recently became acquainted with a local professional (to remain anonymous) based upon a referral from someone I trust. She felt there was synergy in our interests and we might provide meaningful assistance to one another; a perfect basis for an introduction. Over a short period of time, my contacts from the local professional went from infrequent to frequent, and from business-focused to unfocused and off-topic. After a quick gut-check, I knew it was time to terminate these interactions.? While I cannot say precisely where the line is drawn with regard to comfortable interactions, I sure know when it’s been crossed. As with any relationship, when someone starts to make you feel uncomfortable for any reason, even when you feel you had initially found an affinity though virtual interactions, you have to change course immediately.

Last month, I had the opportunity to spend some time with Chris Brogan*, one of the greatest minds in the area of social media. We only knew of each other through Twitter and yet, when he tweeted that he’d be in the area attending a conference, I jumped at the chance to meet him. I had been reading his tweets (posted messages) for a short while, but he knew nothing at all about me. I think it is safe to say that we did not know each other at all. At the agreed-upon time, I pulled up to meet him at the conference. He climbed into my car and we had a delightful visit discussing the virtual world and generational differences in the use of technology. I read a bit about Chris ahead of time, everyone says what a wonderful, brilliant and sweet guy he is. Should I have let a strange man into my car because of what someone somewhere said about him? Was that sufficient due diligence to keep myself safe? I was envious as I acknowledged to myself that I’d have been less apt to climb into a man’s car I’d never met and wondered what opportunities I’d be missing. Is this different for me as a woman? Is this different for me because I’m “older” (in terms of those in the virtual world)?

No one is watching out for us. Whether the concern is personal safety or respectful use of your time, we need to trust our own instincts and determine for ourselves what it means to “know” someone. Becoming familiar with someone online may or may not provide enough information.

What do you think? Have you found yourself in similar uncomfortable situations? Is this a gender-based, generationally-based concern or an issue for everyone?

*? Turns out that the buzz about Chris Brogan is 100% true, he really is that smart and an incredibly generous guy. If you areat all interested in blogging or social media, I strongly recommend that you subscribe to his blog and follow him on twitter. You’ll learn a lot! [/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]