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How to Find Your People in the Digital Age

I have to confess that I'm a total hypocrite when it comes to smartphones and social media. On the one hand, I'm a bit of a luddite, and long for the days when we were all more deeply engaged in physical reality (and with each other), instead of addicted to a glowing brick in our pockets.


On the other hand, as I sit here reflecting on this piece, I'm realizing that virtually all of my meaningful connections over the past decade have been facilitated by said glowing brick. Told you I was a hypocrite.


I met my partner of (almost) 11 years on the Plenty of Fish dating site (pre-app like the dinosaur I am). I found my local meditation community by typing "meditation Toronto" into Google. I've met virtually all of my closest friends over the past several years using the Bumble app.


I've just recently lucked into discovering a wonderful Zoom discussion circle made up of strong, intelligent, and inspiring women from all over the continent. We meet once a week to discuss climate change, the poly-crisis, and what we're doing to adapt and build resilience in our lives and communities. It's awesome. And it could never happen without the internet.



A t-rex toy posed on a green lawn with trees
Photo of me circa 2012

I'll admit, this isn't exactly my ideal state of affairs. I do romanticize a time when you could form more organic and spontaneous connections with people just by, you know, being out and about in the world. And I'm sure there are some bold extroverts out there who are still making that happen. But for the more introverted among us, or for those who have very specific interests/hobbies, and might have trouble finding likeminded people "in the wild", apps and social media have actually been a boon in certain regards.


It's tough to form meaningful connections at the moment. This sentiment isn't new -- loneliness has been on the rise for years, to the point that some researchers are now referring to it as an epidemic. And there's little doubt that the internet has in many ways been detrimental to making these connections. It's directly contributed to an increase in toxic individualism, to atomization and political polarization. It's gotten us hooked on quick dopamine hits so that the subtler, deeper rewards of building long-term friendships seem less valuable. More of us are feeling more lonely, anxious, and depressed than ever before.


And yet, I think we sometimes get so (understandably) overwhelmed by the alienation of the internet era that we forget there's still so much we can do to foster connection in our day-to-day lives. We can still find our people in the digital age.


The ongoing COVID pandemic has made it tougher. The grind of capitalism has made it tougher. A lack of third places has made it tougher. The disconnection of the digital age has made it tougher. The luddite in me sees how much technology has taken from us. But the rebel in me is pissed off, and the biggest "FU" I can think of to a system that seems hellbent on destroying connection and community is to connect anyway.


It's bizarre to consider, but in this age of disconnection, our last hope might ironically be our internet connections.


Please don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Find your people. Don't put it off any longer. The times we're heading into will be bumpy, and no one can solo prep or hustle their way out. We need to build community and connection, and honestly, we needed to start building ten years ago. But today's the next best time to start.


The internet is a miracle. A chaotic, swirling morass of "content" and opinions and distractions? Sure. But a miracle nevertheless. Use its power to your advantage. Google local hobby groups or sports leagues to join up with. Head to meetup.com and search for hiking groups or movie clubs or fandoms. You're probably going to feel awkward and nervous showing up for the first time (if you're anything like me). Give yourself a pep talk in the mirror and go do it anyway.


Find a group to volunteer with, to protest with, to garden with. Find a spiritual community that supports you during good times and bad (note: a spiritual community doesn't necessarily imply a religion!).


If you can't find any likeminded communities in your area, join a Zoom group, hop on a Discord server, ask an old friend to FaceTime. Sure, maybe something intangible is lost in virtual versus in-person connection. Who cares. Do it anyway. Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Find your people.


It seems to me that our global industrial capitalist system wants us to be disconnected, disorganized, and hopeless. It wants us divided, distracted, and hostile toward one another. If any of us are going to make it out of the multiple crises headed our way, it won't be through individualism, hoarding wealth, rugged entrepreneurship, hustle, or "grit." It'll be together, or not at all.



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