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Get Connected: How to Expand Your Offline Social Network

“Strangers are friends you have yet to meet.” ~Unknown

We are living in times of massive change.

Looking at some of the problems we are facing—the crumbling economy, environmental pollution, wars over scarce resources—sometimes the idea of moving far away to a remote mountain top seems very attractive. Or hiding in that small space behind the computer screen. Anything that helps us avoid real life and all its challenges.

But of course, if everybody thought that way, who would actually get up and do something about our situation? And is it enough to receive words of comfort through an email? We also need a smile and a good hug.

Shouldn’t we move closer together in times of hardship?

Despite accelerating globalization, which is connecting everybody and everything in an ever-growing web, there is a worrying development: People are feeling more and more isolated.

We have hundreds of friends on Facebook, but hardly anybody knows the names of their neighbors. All the social online sites are great, no doubt about it. But does the exchange happening there provide the human warmth we so desperately need?

Recently there was a fire in the head office of my internet provider. Over 100,000 customers went involuntarily offline for three days. Lots of people complained, many panicked, and almost everybody suffered from some kind of withdrawal symptoms within the first day.

Imagine you were suddenly without Internet for a week. No email, no Facebook, and no chat rooms. An important question arises: Do you have enough friends left who live nearby?

Do you have enough friends you can connect with when you need advice, encouragement, or simply somebody who listens?

The majority of my family lives a 3–hour flight away. We are perfectly linked through text messages, emails, and regular video calls on Skype—technology at its best! However, what I really miss is being able to pop by for a cup of tea.

Who knows—maybe one day I’ll return to live in my home country. But right now, I’m in a different place, and so I need to make sure that I am well-connected to my local community. Because in times of trouble, I need to rely on people who are physically close to me.

You have to make an effort, but ultimately it’s your own choice whether you want to feel like a stranger in the place where you live or you want to start making a strong offline network.

Here are 5 great ways to connect to your local community.

1. Make offline visits.

How much time do you spend looking at some kind of screen—computer, telephone, television? And how often do you have a face-to-face conversation with a good friend?

Usually it’s laziness that keeps us from leaving the house. We’d rather stay comfortably on the sofa than go outside. Yet friendships are like the plants in a garden. If you don’t care for them, you won’t get anything in return.

You will only receive if you give in the first place, whether it’s money, time or joy.

So the next time you are tempted to check your email for the 5th time, switch off your computer and visit somebody who lives near you.

2. Organize a neighborhood party.

Every week I get various party invitations through Facebook. Great, but the problem is that most of those parties take place in a different town, a different country, or even on a different continent. And as you look through the list of the other people who are invited, you are likely to find that most don’t live close by either.

So why not have a party where you invite everybody you know who lives in your vicinity—friends, neighbors, and even strangers. It’s the perfect way to strengthen your local network of real human beings. You’ll crease new relationships, organize communal projects, and most importantly, have fun!

3. Join a club, band, or course.

How many new friends have you made online in the last year, and how many offline?

Many people believe that the only place to meet others is in a bar, but that’s obviously not true. Depending on your interests, the chances are actually quite small that you will meet any like-minded people at midnight when everybody is drunk.

Instead, think about something you really enjoy doing and then find out who else is doing it. There are lots of opportunities.

If you love music take up dancing classes or join a band. If you like a particular sport, become a member of a club. If there is a subject you have always been interested, enroll for a course and learn about it.

Sharing common interests is the best way to make new friends!

4. Buy your food from local shops.

It always saddens me when I see that shopping is becoming more and more a totally anonymous experience. Supermarkets and malls often have a cold atmosphere. The formally vibrant and social market places have been reduced to centers of pure consumerism. No wonder online shops are booming.

More recently, there has been a revival of the local shop, which comes as no surprise if you look at the numerous advantages:

  • The money you spend stays in your town with local people, rather than enriching some unknown managers in far away cities.
  • Most little shops tend to sell more local products, which supports local businesses.
  • You know more about where your food comes from.
  • Instead of being a rather stressful experience, which is usually the case when you go to big supermarkets, shopping locally gives you a chance to slow down and turn a needed trip into a pleasant task.
  • And of course: Small shops provide a great place for social interaction! It’s a great opportunity to make new connections with the people that live around you, to chat—offline!

5. Offer a helping hand.

In every town or village there are many people and organizations that could really do with your help: charities, cultural associations, people who are ill or handicapped, children, stressed parents, neighbors. The list is almost endless.

The good thing is that when you offer help to people who need it, that they don’t care so much whether you are a friend or stranger. So if you want to find access to a local community, this is a great point to start.

Furthermore: What goes around comes around! When you help others, you’re rewarded with new social connections and new opportunities, not to mention a really good feeling.

We are currently facing the biggest challenge ever. Every day we have more difficulties to deal with, and I believe this will continue until we learn that the only solution for all of our problems is true coexistence.

We need to share instead of take away, listen instead of ignoring, and help instead of hurting.

No matter how big the crisis: We can only solve it together!

Photo by *Quen*

Avatar of Claus Mikosch

About Claus Mikosch

Claus Mikosch is a German writer and photographer, currently living in the South of Spain. He is the author of THE LITTLE BUDDHA.

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  • linnaeab

    It seems as if empathy, kindness, sharing belong to past eras and other cultures. Your writing suggests that electronic communication may support the loss of these qualities once vital in communities. I agree.

    At the same time, there are hints of self-serving commerce in the text.  For example, suggesting that a individual get off the couch  “Because in times of trouble, I need to rely on people who are physically close to me.”

    What about when a neighbor needs a helping hand, even though they may not ask for it, can they rely on us? Or do we live on a one way street …  meaning we only want to get to know people face-to-face expecting in the future that they can benefit us?

    “You want to start making a strong offline network.”

    Network is impersonal. Like a  TV network. It isn’t the term one generally uses for friends, neighbors, fellow human beings. We say their names, or use their relationship to describe them.

    In the 21st century network has taken on the meaning of a loose tie to as many people as possible that we really don’t know but who we think can help us get a job, to whom we can sell our wares, or use for some other purpose that is important to us.

    “Yet friendships are like the plants in a garden. If you don’t care for them, you won’t get anything in return.” Sounds like commerce: I give to you so that I can get something from you.

    A writer knows each word is important. Gandhi suggested something like this: 
    Watch our thoughts, they become our words.
    Watch our words, they become our actions.
    Watch our actions, they become our destiny.

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    Hi there,

    Though I did not write this post, I did edit it, and I put in the word “network” because the post explores the idea of community, as opposed to online social networks. It seemed like a logical comparison at the time–online network vs. offline network. At the time, I did not think about all the word’s connotations, as you’ve listed them.

    Claus, I apologize if adding this word changed the essence of your intention! From our email exchange, I know that you did not intend to suggest using people or building loose affiliations, but rather making real, meaningful connections with people in your community.

    Lori

  • http://www.veganadvantage.com Sylvia Black

    I relate to this strongly since my social network is quite scattered right now. I have only a handful of friends in my home city – most of the rest are scattered around the province. I have been planning to start volunteering and perhaps taking classes, in line with your numbers 3 and 5, and I think that will help. 

    It’s important, I think, to be constantly reaching out to new people as a habit, especially people geographically close to you. I want to be careful of building up a satisfying circle and then just sticking within it, as I’ve done before to my detriment.

  • http://twitter.com/AlannahRose Alannah Rose

    This piece is very timely for me because I was just talking last night about how frustrated I am that I am so far away (physical location-wise) from all of my friends.  Right now my whole support network and a lot of my socializing is done with friends on Twitter, through chat and in bits and pieces on Facebook (where I only have 70-some friends, all of whom I actually know).

    I am in the process of trying to branch out and find some local friends… I have been a member of www.meetup.com for years, but I’ve recently started attending a few gatherings and hopefully as I continue to do that, I will make some lasting connections.  It’s a little bit frustrating because it can be a slow process, but the only way to meet people (in person!) is to put yourself out there, so that’s what I’m doing.  Being open to new things and all kinds of people has been a must.  Sometimes I just have an enjoyable conversation sitting next to somebody randomly at a restaurant or concert, and I know I’ll never see them again but I enjoy that time for what it is.

    Those are great tips, Claus – I enjoyed this article!

     

  • Claus Mikosch

    Hey,thanks
    for your comment. As Lori has said already, the word ‘network’ was
    added by her.Personally I don’t have a problem with it – for
    me, a network is something positive. However, I can see why some
    people might feel uncomfortable with this term. It might help to
    differentiate between the different uses of a net.

    A
    fisher uses it for only one reason: to catch fish. Like the
    typical networking salesperson, he is only interested in his personal
    gain. Self-serving commerce, as you put it.

    Yet
    the same net can be used by an acrobat to save his life in case he
    falls. Here, the main focus isn’t the net itself, but the act of
    balancing.

    My
    article talks about creating a safety-net, not a fishing net. And I
    believe that the joy of sharing should always be the prime motivation
    when building a community. Everything else is secondary.

  • http://www.wiseatwork.net Susie Amundson

    Claus. Thank you for such a refreshing post. I sometimes think we are so busy connecting online that we disconnect from ourselves and others offline. Your post emphasizes the importance of our face-to-face relationships — a sweet reminder.

    Warmly.
    Susie

  • Claus Mikosch

    Hi Sylvia,

    you are totally right, the key is to constantly reach out to new people. Happened to me so many times that I thought I have my community around me sorted, and then within a few months everybody gets itchy feet and disappears.

    Nothing is static, all is changing continously. Even friends.

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  • Ingrid Malone

    Thank you Claus – I realized it’s not too late. I have at least 10 friends in my neighbourhood, but we all see each othere 1:1 rather than as a group, so now planing regular parties, just to hang out and eat togther and make music. 

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