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*

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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