So I’m in Florida for my mother’s 80th birthday, sitting at the pool, in a definitely unprofessional frame of mind. My brother, daughter, husband, and nieces are engaged in a boisterous handstand contest, and I’m reading my mystery one sentence at a time. Mostly I’m listening to my mother schmooze with her neighbors.
“How’s the hip?” she asks Phyllis.
Others from the building wander by and cluster in small groups in and out of the pool. They’re showing off visiting grandchildren, commiserating about the building’s management, inquiring into one another’s health, recommending books, talking politics. The faces are wrinkled, one person’s body stick thin, another as folded as an origami housedress, but the conversation across the board is lively and the laughter earthy.
Most of these people in their 70s and 80s read and occasionally send email – corny jokes that circle the snowbird circuit with blinding speed. They conduct searches and are valiantly struggling to understand Facebook (which is, as one lady explains, “a way to keep track of what your grandchildren are up to.”) But Twitter is something they can’t begin to fathom. And listening to these conversations, recognizing the comfort that I derive from knowing that my recently widowed mother is in such good company, I understand why.
All of this banter and warmth and casual but ultimately revealing conversation is driven by questions. How’s the hip? Did you see Obama last night? What did you think of Slumdog? Nobody here is broadcasting or soliloquizing; everyone is inquiring. And that simple, solicitous human interest is the most powerful form of social media. It carries richer “data” – concern, interest, empathy – and yields more measurable results – a sense that you matter. This is organic community at its finest; and when we’re lucky enough to achieve this same dynamic in the online communities that we build, those are the days I most feel that what I do matters.
But right now, what matters most is to prove to my assembled family that when it comes to underwater excellence, I still reign. So …. Blackberry off.
Over and out.