The Original Social Network

You’d have to try pretty hard not to make new connections while on the road.

Whether at your hostel or at a family-style restaurant or over drinks at the bar or through a friend of a friend, the act of leaving your home and going someplace else is a catalyst for networking of all flavors, and even the most introverted wallflower stands a good chance of encountering someone who shares their interests and who is open to making a connection.

These days, you can’t go online without seeing a dozen new articles or blog posts about how social media is destroying our friendships/family/love lives/conversation skills/world/whatever, but I would argue that if used purposefully, these networks can be just as valuable as traveling.

Sure, you don’t get the away-from-home, fish-out-of-water feeling that can only be achieved by actually leaving home, but you can seek out new people, new ideas, new colors and shapes and styles. You can adjust your habits to locate the unfamiliar, and increase your rate of stumbling across ‘happy accidents’ despite the net’s proclivity for curated experiences.

You can, in essence, treat the internet like a country that’s foreign to everyone; a place we all visit, primed to make new connections, mingle, be surprised, and have our minds expanded.

Like with travel, it’s possible to approach the net in a way that offers only a fraction of the potential experience — how many people do you know who go off to someplace exotic, only to spend their time shopping and interacting only with other tourists who speak their language? — but it’s also possible to get far more from it. To take a digital trip from anywhere with a WiFi signal.

In travel and online, there’s nothing wrong with taking the paved, well-documented, thoroughly reviewed path through the unfamiliar. Just be aware that if you do, you’re only seeing a single facet of a world that’s built from an infinite number of them.

Update: April 12, 2017

This many years later, people still talk down about social media. But I still content that, if used purposefully, it can be immensely valuable. Turn off the notifications, know why you’re on each network, and don’t feel compelled to follow people out of politeness or open that app every time you have a spare second.