Virtual and real-world connections build communities

Connections make our lives richer. Whether through a friend, family member or just a person offering a helping hand or a smile while you’re out running errands, positive interactions can lift our spirits and enhance our sense of community.

But it’s also possible to build meaningful relationships virtually — through social media, video calls or shared experiences like streaming the same music or movies as your friends and sharing your thoughts about it. For example, gamers build rich, interactive communities. Online dating services are responsible for thousands of solid relationships. Career-focused sites promote networking among professionals. The potential can seem limitless. While there are many ways to make those critical human connections online, balance is still important. After all, there really can be too much of a good thing.

Nielsen, a company that tracks how Americans watch TV and consume other media, recently released a report with some striking numbers. Between February 2021 and February 2022, the average time spent streaming television in the U.S. increased by 18%. That translates into an average of just less than 170 billion minutes of weekly video viewing. As a company that works hard to provide high-quality internet service to make that viewing experience as seamless and enjoyable as possible, those numbers reflect a clear success for our industry. But there was an interesting twist — 46% of people responding to the survey found it hard to find the content they want. Have you ever had a friend raving about a show you’ve never heard of because you don’t have access to that platform? You’re not alone. What do streaming TV and personal connections have in common? To me, that study shows that more is not always better, and there may well be a need to take a mindful approach in accessing all the online resources. In fact, consider how you strike a balance between the virtual world and the physical world.

Streaming movies and TV, particularly on a steamy summer day when it’s too hot outside, can be a perfect pastime. But too many options can lead to decision paralysis. Boredom might not be too far behind. The same idea applies to many online destinations. At their best, social media sites can be informative, engaging and create real ties to those who might otherwise be lost to the passing of time or long distances. But social media can also be a platform for people to simply draw attention to themselves, and not always with the best motives or positive results. Also, thanks to digital tools, work can become ever-present, even during hours meant for rest or family. The McClean Hospital, an expert mental health organization affiliated with Harvard Medical School, addresses this digital burnout. They suggest occasionally taking time to power down. Don’t respond immediately to all messages. Unplug completely from work during off-hours. Cull your online accounts and keep the only ones that add true value. Most importantly, when you can, opt for face-to-face interactions.

Our community is rich and vital, because of the people who live and work around us. If we’re thoughtful, the wealth of digital tools that are only a click away will make us even stronger and allow us to build and maintain the connections that matter.

– Craig Cook, CEO