Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Human Need for Connection

This is the first in what I hope is a series of posts on connection. I'm more interested in what you have to say than diving in deep in the post, so I'll keep it relatively brief. 

We need each other. It's built into us. I don't really understand why; I've been very much a loner at different times in my life, an independent completely comfortable eating dinner alone, traveling alone, and living alone. 

Or is that really the case? 

I've been researching online & offline communities, the power of connections between the members, what leads someone to join an online community in the first place, and the dynamics within them. 

It's fascinating.

I've been participating in online communities since the late 80's, when my Dad had Prodigy. Since then, I've always been the first among my friends to try new online communities, including the relatively stodgy LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, blogs, Geocities, Yahoo Groups, Excite Communities, etc. 

At Mission Research, I launched a disastrous attempt to create a community called Sustainable Nonprofit. It wasn't sustainable ;). And that's when I realized it couldn't be forced. You can't simply build it, declare it's there, and try to get people to post by posting leading questions and forced responses. 

That effort died a painful death, along with many others by other companies that also didn't get it. 

People want to connect around their existing beliefs or interests, partly to learn new things, partly to validate their own thoughts and existence, partly to meet new people. 

That last reason is intriguing: people don't simply show up to meet new people in any old place--there has to be a reason. 

The number one reason? My friend invited me, and I don't want to let my friend down, so I check it out. If it interests me, maybe I'll stay. 

The second reason? It meets a specific interest. Arnold loves learning about new wines and sharing about them. It's a core part of how he's organized his life; it's important to him and fulfilling. 

That's where I stumble a bit. What is it about us humans that need to share? That we need to be fulfilled, and can be through sharing? 

What is it about our need for affirmation that we highly value blogs where people respond to our comments, even if the original content is sometimes tepid, occasionally excellent? 

And are we a self-selecting group? Why do some people not have the need to comment, but read the posts and sometimes the comments? What is it that prevents them from taking that step? 

I'm certain other people and companies have figured this out. I'm almost certain there's some game theory behind it as well, which turns me off because it feels crass, but I understand why it's an important component for nurturing and growing communities: we want to achieve, we want to be recognized, we want to be affirmed by people we respect (perhaps more than ourselves). 

This very human need for connection has been analyzed to death (google "attachment disorder"), and I've been reading a lot of articles and papers about it. 

I have nothing new to add, except for this: it's taken me 44 years to realize that going it alone isn't very fulfilling. 

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