Lindsay Bell

I’m OK, You’re OK: Social Friendship and Gut Instincts

By: Lindsay Bell | June 5, 2013 | 

Social InstinctsThose who know me, know I don’t get out much.

No, really.

In fact, as I said to Danny Brown on Saturday, “I’m *this* close to becoming agoraphobic!”

While I might be exaggerating a bit, I do tend to watch Hoarders with a tad more trepidation than I used to.

So, when Gini Dietrich asked me if I wanted to attend the Social Capital Conference in Ottawa with her, I jumped at the chance. I know. You’re scratching your head saying “Um, those two statements make no sense.” Hang tight, I’m getting there.

I’ve said before I’m an introvert – painfully so in fact. But I fight hard to hide that fact. I’m pretty good at working a room, get geeked out about job interviews, and am absolutely beyond fascinated by people and what makes them tick.

As you can see, I’m a jumble of inconsistencies and mixed messaging (and the odd mixed metaphor). Poor Gini deals with this everyday. God love her. But I digress. Back to people.

The Study of People

People are so interesting. You really never know for sure if what you see on the outside is actually what’s on the inside. It gets a bit easier as one *koff* matures, but still. Trust is a bizarre thing us humans do. You couldn’t be more vulnerable than when you place your trust in someone.

When I meet people, I usually instantly like them – or I don’t. I can count on one hand the number of times I have been duped. Call it survival instincts, whatever, I’m seriously good at pegging people.

Yet, online, every day, we trust people with ourselves. We build deep relationships – friendships even – with people we’ve (usually) never met in real life. We share our most intimate thoughts, our life events, our children’s names.

Marjorie Clayman wrote a thought provoking piece on the subject of social friendship, suggesting we’re all becoming simply robot friends with on/off switches. Maybe. I certainly don’t feel that way at the moment. However, it’s interesting how quickly we bond with those we can’t look directly in the eye.

Digital Humans

Many people crow social/digital/mobile media is destroying our ability to communicate clearly and really know people. Studies do indicate 93 percent of communication between humans is based on nonverbal body language (which we’re obviously not getting via most technology).

For example, it drives me batty when I can’t see someone’s eyes when I’m speaking with them (I will ask you to take your sunglasses off!). But the same discomfort and feeling of disconnect rarely comes up for me when chatting online.

Clearly we’re evolving. And fast. Some researchers feel humans, and our physiology, evolved at a ferocious rate over a scant three or four millennia – a time frame “minutely short by the standards of Darwinian evolution,” as they say – and this because of technological advances.

Which brings us back to the conference. Yes I was nervous, and feeling out of sorts, but I put on my best “No, I’m actually an EXtrovert!” face on, stuck my hand out, and waded in. And I excitedly met some people I know online, in real life, for the first time. Guess what? My gut instincts didn’t fail me. Not once. The ones I was pretty sure I was going to like, I did. And those I kinda thought I might not – I didn’t.  

Boom! Instinct Wins Again!

Even with no eye contact, and hundreds of miles and machines between us, I have developed deep social friendships, and real connections to certain people in my social networks. And those same feelings were there when we met – and hugged – in Ottawa last week.

I think that says a lot about us and how we communicate and don’t communicate. Even without the magic (and pheromones!) of body language and face-to-face interaction – I still had a 100 percent return on my investments.

We should all stop worrying about this new digital world we’re living in and evolving beside. We’re all going to be just fine. And we’re going to have loads more friends to lean on than ever was possible before.

NOTE: I’m not sure what this all means, it’s just been jumbling around my head since the weekend and I had to get it on paper – I would LOVE your thoughts and feedback!

About Lindsay Bell

Lindsay Bell is the content director at V3 Marketing, and works in Toronto. A former TV producer, she’s a strong advocate of three minutes or less of video content. She has a cool kid, a patient husband, two annoying cats, and Hank Dawge, a Vizsla/Foxhound/moose hybrid. Ok, maybe not moose.

  • Love this! “I’m a jumble of inconsistencies and mixed messaging” it is like you are talking about me 🙂 I tend to be super shy but once I’m comfortable around you WATCH OUT! 
    I love being able to talk to people online because it helps me connect to others who are also doing what I love and gives me a chance to get to know more people than I could ever meet in my limited geographic area.

    • aimeelwest HA! There really are quite a few of us nut bars out here! Gini always say “I love that you can laugh at yourself, or you don’t care when I tease you about *insert any number of dorktastic/la di da things I have done*!!” – I can’t imagine not being able to embrace who you are – fully. I know what I know – and I sure as heck know what I don’t – and never try and hide it. 😀

  • Harry Brumleve

    Great article! I think online has the same feeling as the ‘what would a person do if they knew they wouldn’t get caught’ idea. I usually judge someone based upon their positive or negative posts and responses and how kindly they treat others within a realm of almost no reprecussions.
    I’m glad your gut/instincts didn’t lead you astray, gives me hope for my own chioces online. 🙂

    • Harry Brumleve Thanks Harry, so glad you dropped by! Interesting tidbit re: the not getting caught game – I find it excruciating even crossing against a red light. Ask Gini – it’s true! I’m such a rule follower (or a chicken!). I doubt I would be able to do anything – even if I knew I wouldn’t get caught. 🙂

      • belllindsay Harry Brumleve I’m so sure MY friend comments on your blog posts, but never on mine.

        • ginidietrich belllindsay Harry Brumleve Harry likes me better.

  • Love this! The “social” provides this amazing chance to get to know what someone wants you to think about them. Which can be very revealing. As much as people have the potential to mislead us in this space, I’ve actually had a surprisingly good return on investment as well. I’ve met people from all of my different “social” spaces, which if you know me, is quite varied, and they’ve all turned out quite well. I am surprisingly an introvert as well, and meeting first online works well for me- in person I am really really silly when I am nervous. Hah imagine that! Thanks for this post Ell Bee!

    • RebeccaTodd HAHAHA! You? Silly? I have to say you’re pretty brave – it’s one thing to meet people at an event or conference – it’s another altogether to actively arrange a dinner date (as you did in San Fran) – I’m not sure I could be that brave!! I really do think as human tribe mates we’re changing – but I’m not sure that’s  abad thing.

      • belllindsay Really, my job- when I am out doing face to face appointments- is a lot like dating. Each appointment is a little first date. Which is why it both makes it really easy for me to go out with someone I don’t know socially, and makes me totally uninterested in dating for fun. I can keep conversation flowing like it’s my job, because it is! But when I get home from a big road trip, I isolate in my house with my dogs and my books and my vinyl. People overload!

        • RebeccaTodd Yeah, I like people, love to people watch, geek on the science of our species – but man, I don’t want to be around them 24/7 – not even my own family! LOL

  • Awesome.  I think Hangouts have changed things for me considerably – seeing people’s  mannerisms adds an extra layer of intimacy. When I finally met samfiorella IRL last month in San Francisco, he just refused to believe it wast he first time we’d met. We have been friends online for years.  I don’t even know WHEN I met him, but it sure wasn’t like meeting a new person for lunch.
    What I try to do, though, is pick up the phone and TALK to the people I feel close to on Social, even if I can’t see them IRL. Gini and I have never met in person, but I don’t know how many times we’ve talked, or emailed… and I consider her one of my best social friends.
    People are real, or people are fake, or shitty, or delightful… and if you’re communicating as much as we all do with each other, the real person comes out. You can’t hide it. Even in type.

    • “the real person comes out. You can’t hide it. Even in type.” So true AmyMccTobin So true samfiorella

    • AmyMccTobin samfiorella Really well said Amy.

      • RebeccaTodd AmyMccTobin samfiorella Exactly true. It’s quite incredible actually. Unless they’re straight up sociopaths, that is.

        • belllindsay RebeccaTodd AmyMccTobin samfiorella Well, I already KNEW Sam was a sociopath so I was fully prepared.

        • AmyMccTobin RebeccaTodd samfiorella I would agree with you, but I’m hoping to hit the porch of cognac and cigars one day. 😉

  • bobledrew

    Speaking as one of the people I HOPE you were thinking about on the good side, but didn’t identify… 
    One of the things that I find really fascinating about living / working in this field is the juxtaposition of “real” friends and “virtual” friends, and how we each react differently. I know that as the time came nearer that I was going to meet you and ginidietrich for the first time, I was getting progressively antsier, I suspect from a minority position of “I hope they’re as cool as I think they are” and a majority position of “Crap, I hope they don’t think ‘WHAT A DORK’…” 
    There’s also something to be said for both public and private spaces online; spaces where one can inhabit a professional persona, and spaces where some of the niceties of polite society can be set aside. 
    There are always things that would be better to be said privately, whether it’s a whisper in an ear or typing in a private online space. 
    Thanks for the post.

    • bobledrew ginidietrich You were one of the bad people.

      • bobledrew ginidietrich KIDDING!!! Seriously though, I totally agree – there’s always a bit of nerves meeting IRL, no matter how much you think you ‘know’ someone in the online space. And I think that’s where our evolution is happening – we are developing certain ‘digital instincts’ (if you will) about people to make up for the lack of real contact/body language/pheromones etc., BUT we are still hundreds, maybe thousands of years away from those evolutionary butterflies ever subsiding (will this person stab me through the heart or give me a hug?). I’m not sure what it all means, but I can geek out over this kinda stuff for a month of Sundays.

        • bobledrew

          belllindsay bobledrew ginidietrich But.. but..

        • bobledrew ginidietrich  *swoon*

        • bobledrew

          belllindsay bobledrew ginidietrich TINY HANKDOG! ACTIVATE MISTRESS CATCH (with apologies to davidsvet


    • bobledrew I feel like we’ve known each other for years and “meeting” in person for the first time felt like I was just seeing an old friend I hadn’t seen in a few months. That said, I adore you even more having seen you in the flesh.

      • ginidietrich bobledrew I was shocked to find out you two hadn’t met before!

  • Oh gosh I have to come back to this when I have more time but I agree!! The two main “IRL” meetings I have had with people I thought I “understood/got/would get along with” on social media have been splashing successes. Completely. And the few people who gave me the willies on SM were, in retrospect, people who had issues that no relationship on social media was going to repair. More later …….

    • Well, I guess I don’t really have as much to say as I thought — I summarized a lot of it in my original rushed reply. BUT I have shared that feeling of the pre-meeting of someone I only know from social media and not IRL. In September 2012, I went to Boston to run in a half marathon. But it wasn’t JUST a half marathon, it was one I ended up at because a couple I follow on line have a child with autism and …….it’s a LONG story but I was persuaded by these two amazing people to raise $500 for Autism Speaks and run 13.1 miles. I almost missed seeing them at dinner because I dragged my feet about getting downstairs — I felt all of a sudden SHY and FEARFUL that it wouldn’t be as amazing in real life as it was online. The good news is …. they’re just as amazing IRL as online as are the rest of the connections I had made in this community. I think part of it is … less reaction time in real life … online I can compose my thoughts, I know what they had for breakfast, I know their views on a lot of things. IRL, the different timing feels so …. different! And I think that’s new since social media took such a big part in my life. I enjoyed your post!

      • biggreenpen Thanks, and what a great story – I couldn’t run to the mailbox and back, let alone do a half-marathon. And yes, we’ve all had those “what if they hate me IRL!” moments – proves we’re all just human under all the sarcasm and bravado that the interwebs afford us! 🙂

  • ahhh…, I love every little bit of this article. So interesting on several levels for me.
    As an extrovert I also adore the online world because it gives me an even bigger sphere to meet and learn about people. Honestly before online communication became to norm I was so desperate for more interaction that I would literally go to grocery stores or book stores simply to make more friends. I think I drove people crazy but I was just sooooo in need of more people to connect with I had no choice. Many people still call me the ‘mayor’ because I tend to pick up random people everywhere I go (like really everywhere). 
    The online world has caused me to simmer down quite a bit because I have a whole group of buddies on demand. It is fantabulous! I also have had a good amount of luck in the friendship converting from online to real life. I’ve made it a mission to meet many of the people I’ve developed my closest ties to (again as an extrovert this is a pretty intense need for me, I like communicating with people, but I really need to be with people, in real life) and with the exception of a few outright bombtastic bombs, it has been just like we’ve been friends for years….because we have!
    The fact remains that online or offline scam artists are scam artists. Some people just suck and they can only hide that for so long, even online. We have passed the point of it being just a one dimensional part of our lives and now is an integrated, 3D part of all we do. You just can’t hide your inner f$%*tard for too long. 
    I’ll be the first to say that online communications has destroyed many things about communication. But like everything, it has also brought us many opportunities, this is a great example as that. That’s the nature of innovation in general though. There is always going to be pros and cons and a period of shakiness as we learn to make this new fangled stuff a useful part of our existence.  One can only hope that as it continues to evolve with us, it will also continue to improve how we live, work and support each other as social creatures.

    • LauraPetrolino This line should win the Pulitzer or something- “You just can’t hide your inner f$%*tard for too long. ” Yeah I find I get duper more in “real life” than in social. The social gives me a pretty good glimpse in to people, in real life, I’m not so good at that.

      • RebeccaTodd Hehe…yeah, I have to admit I was pretty proud of that after I wrote it! It might be the title of one of the many books I’d like to write 🙂
        But agreed. I love people watching, I could do it all day. I watch and try to figure people out and extrapolate about their lives and feelings and personalities. Social gives you a supersized people watching experience. Like people watching on steroids, and that is very powerful.

      • RebeccaTodd LauraPetrolino HAHAHAHAHA! I was thinking the exact same thing!

    • LauraPetrolino Thanks Laura – although I will admit, reading about how sociable and extroverted you are in real life almost gave me hives. 😉 I still find it fascinating how much we can determine about people – correctly usually –  using digital communication alone. I mean, we are programmed to decipher people face to face – twitches, scents, eye movements, body language. If I were smarter I’d write a book about this subject.

      • belllindsay first let me say that I probably say at least once a week “if I were smarter, I’d write a book about this subject’, haha! So instead I’m just filled with a collection of halfway useful theories and facts through my academic googling 🙂
        But I think what you said above about us evolving to the world we live in is sooooo interesting and makes sense. Had our ancestors encountered the world we are in today, communication and society would shut down completely. Also, look at the way animals have adapted their natural instincts to evolve for the new environment they are in. Dogs waiting at cross walks for the walk light, elks using heat from man made plants to keep warm, migration pattern changes, etc. If they can do it, one would hope we’d at least be halfway smart enough to do that same.
        My hope is that we are evolving in a way that encourages greater good, but with all good comes bad and I think it is important that as part of our ‘social digitalization’ we account for that, or at least be aware of it. It will be tricky.
        And thinking about extroverts should give you hives because we are all totally bipolar. I give myself hives half the time 😉

        • LauraPetrolino HA! You are hilarious. I’m not convinced that *all* evolution is a good thing, but I like what you’re saying here – at least it happens – for the good and continuation of the species.

        • belllindsay LauraPetrolino I love the Petro Brain.

        • RebeccaTodd belllindsay Hahaha! Awww shucks you guys. See that’s why I love you all, you appreciated my crazycake perspective on the world (or at least you just play along nicely…..either way works for me)

  • I love this article (introverts unite!). I think if you’ve got a well-tuned bull***t detector, it will serve you well no matter what the form of communication.

    • Kato42 Very true – a good BS detector is an important tool to have! 🙂

  • Imma hug you one of these days.

  • Aww Lindsay!! You’re OK!!

  • You know hessiej paid us all to hug you, right? 😉
    It was great to see you again, miss – we need to do it more often. Heck, it’s not as if we’re miles away from each other..!

    • Danny Brown we need to force belllindsay by invading her at her doorway:) Miss you Lindsay!

      • hessiej Danny Brown Miss you too Hessie! Wish you guys didn’t live in the hinterlands! LOL

    • Danny Brown hessiej I saw the love in your eyes Danny.

      • belllindsay hessiej That was whisky glaze…

  • You have to like me…you really don’t have much of a choice 😉 Hahaha!!!
    Kidding, kidding…great post LB, love love love. And I love what AmyMccTobin said…the real person comes out even in type. So true.

    • yvettepistorio AmyMccTobin I don’t have to like you. I have to tolerate you. (jokes!)

  • Communic8nHowe

    Lindsay, I’m sorry we didn’t connect at Social Capital. Then again two introverts who don’t know each other yet can make roe an awkward conversation.
    I hate being in situations where I’m expected to engage in conversation or even worse small talk with people that I don’t know. I gravitate to people that I already know and stick with them or circle the room looking busy. (Did I just say that in front of 18 people listening?)
    But I love social media because I can make connections with people easier–and then when I go to an event like Social Capital I already have a good base of people that I know or that know enough about me that they want to talk to me. Even in my non-professional life it has helped me to break out of my safe zone.
    I still believe though that meeting someone in person is important if there’s a chance to fully realize the potential in a relationship. And that’s why it’d been nice if we could have connected when at the same place. It’s a principle that I believed when I was online dating and met my wife and I find it’s true of social media too. And come to think of it, I find that nearly all the time the people that I like online I also like in the real world.

    • Communic8nHowe “I gravitate to people that I already know and stick with them or circle the room looking busy.” HAHAHA! You just described me to a TEE! I’m sure the day will come when we will meet. Sometimes it’s all about timing! 😀

  • I think that “introverted extrovert” is something a lot of people in our circles have in common. I know I’m certainly one of them and I can peg several others too. I think that’s part of what makes us all click so well – the fact that we GET each other on a pretty deep level, because we share a lot of the same personality traits.
    I loved the conference, and I loved seeing you, and Gini, and everyone else. But boy did I like not having to talk to anyone on Sunday. 🙂

    • suzemuse And I LOVED your hair!! In fact, I didn’t recognize you for a minute when we arrived at dinner that night (idiot). 😀

    • Lara Wellman

      suzemuse I slept the ENTIRE day on Sunday. SO done.  🙂 I definitely fall in the extroverted introvert box.  I’m also quite shy in many situations, which others have a hard time believing 🙂

  • rodmarqc02

    Very interesting article. I’m now learning from social instincts in the world of social media.

  • jasondyk

    Amazing how well our instincts can be sharpened isn’t it? It was great seeing you this weekend and FINALLY having a chance to chat in person!

    • jasondyk Me too Jason! Actually, I think it was that conversation with you that sparked this whole thought process. 😉

      • jasondyk

        belllindsay hopefully it was around the positive gut instincts feeling!! 🙂

  • I think you’re more an ambivert than introvert. You’re very, very good at making your way through a crowd, meeting new people, and having conversations. You don’t give yourself enough credit. Sure, you need your bedtime early and you need to read (i.e. be alone) to wind down from the day, but I’ve never seen you act like an introvert in a social situation.

    • P.S. Minus the traveling thing. We have to get you past that.

      • gurr13singh

        ginidietrich  hi how are you

    • ginidietrich I hide it SO WELL even you don’t notice. I was a wreck at the Tweet-Up on Friday night. 😉

      • gurr13singh

        belllindsay hi

  • sherrilynne

    I really do hope I ended up on the right list Lindsay. It was great meeting you. 🙂

    • gurr13singh

      sherrilynne hi

    • sherrilynne Oh yes, but the difference is I had no preconceived expectations with you – since I was meeting you for the first time ever! Same with Mary Pretotto – just an instant like, in some ways easier than having built a ‘relationship’ online first. Hey, that’s a thought. I wonder if the ‘online knowing’ skews the IRL meeting (I mean, beyond what I discussed above), compared to when you meet a total 100% stranger. Sigh. Why does my brain make me think things like this. 😉

  • gurr13singh


  • I love how you are able to write about the things that make you uncomfortable!  I think that’s why so many of us respond to you & adore you!  Introvert, schmintrovert! 🙂

    • LOL That’s funny, I hadn’t thought of it that way. 🙂 I guess I’m also not that high on myself and pretty OK with people knowing the real me, flaws and all (as ginidietrich  well knows!)

  • Hi, Lindsay – fascinating story : )
    We are creatures that live and breathe words. Words and conversations shape everything about who we are, who we become… If you really want to know who a person is, just listen carefully to every word they speak; for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.
    When you connect with people in this fashion, it’s literally a heart to heart connection. These are among the most real, impactful, and life-changing relationships you will have in your lifetime. 
    Cheers, miss! : )

    • Mark_Harai You make a very good point Mark – and what is interesting is people often share MORE – faster – online, than they would if you met IRL as strangers. So, one can usually get a pretty good feel for someone in the digital space fairly quickly.

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  • I’m more similar to you than not. And it’s so very true.

    • AmyVernon We should start the weird minds club. LOL Also, probably why you make me laugh *out loud* at everything you say on Facebook. 😉

  • I have been pondering this Lindsay. I work as a community manager and I feel very close to the community that I have been part of and building since December. We have a history, just like relationships in real life. We can tell stories of what it was like, not just nostalgically around the magazine, but also as members of a special group of people that gather online. It is exciting to watch friendships bloom over status updates. 
    I think the personality types most attracted to these types of jobs are a lot like you. They have an idea of who people are from the way they engage online. It is an extra level of perception that I think comes from having a strength based on empathy. Requires an intuition about why people behave the way they do online. 
    Those are my thoughts at least. I am beginning to realize what a sort of wacky job I have that is still in the process of being defined. I think it is really important to discuss these issues. For support and to maintain a healthy perspective on what it all means.

    • susansilver Love your comment Susan, and 100% agree – those of us who love to communicate every day seem to make wonderful little nests here online! And while empathy and intuition play a hard role in what we do, as you said, having a ‘history’ with someone is vitally important – even if you haven’t met IRL – we are hardwired to be tribal, and in today’s crazy world we’ve all seem to have lost our tribes. 🙂

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