At the recent Lunch with the Ladies launch in Vancouver, Clio de la Llave, president and founder of Booje Media, the Vancouver-born agency behind the new community networking organisation that gives like-minded women a place to connect, pointed out that Van City may be highest ranked in terms of social media, but we’re still underperforming when it comes to face-to-face engagement, as many of us will know only too well.
Vancouver has always prided itself on having one of the best social media communities in the world, which is clear to anyone at a glance given the huge number of local blogs, food and drink networks and online business forums that are all busy spinning connections behind the scenes of the world wide web.
Vancouver’s inaugural Social Media Awards – the first ever awards ceremony recognizing both students and organizations for their spectacular work in the social media community, hosted by The Social Media Network and presented by Vancity Buzz – proved a huge success this year.
And it’s no surprise that HootSuite, the Vancouver-based social media management system that has 7 million users and growing, and is credited globally with driving businesses’ success in the sometimes tricky world of social media, has quickly become a multi-billion-dollar company.
But, is it true that all of this online expertise is only serving to feed our often anti-social tendencies? It’s true that it’s much easier to tweet a platitude than to go to the trouble of re-arranging your schedule to meet for a coffee, and retweeting takes no commitment whatsoever. Is it a fact of life that we’re simply all too busy burying our faces in our smartphones to look up and even make eye contact anymore?
Hell, a suitably ludicrous name has even been coined to describe this modern-day malady, called “wexting” (which is walking while texting to anyone who remembers a time when dictionaries were regarded as tomes of knowledge and historical importance, not ridicule. “Twerking,” anyone?)
Some cities have gone so far as to test padded lamp posts to protect wandering cellphone users. And where would YouTube’s trending videos be without the seemingly never-ending series of montages showing said “wexters” nearly getting killed for our own amusement, and garnering millions of views in the process?
The City of Vancouver is quite rightly taking advantage of our online obsession with a new public engagement tool, Talk Vancouver, which was a recommendation from last year’s Engaged City Task Force, and is similar to Surrey’s popular City Speaks program launched last April.
In this day and age of low voter turnout, lobbying interests, and criticism towards a lack of public consultation, this online communications tool aims to encourage participation in civic affairs with the touch of a button, and I say more power to them.
Having answered a few questions and signed up, currently they’re polling on whether we know about the City’s 311 service, but it’s envisioned forums such as these will also ask for the public’s feedback on the new $535 million BC Place Casino proposal, for instance, which can only be a step in the right direction towards civic engagement.
At the same time, however, we mustn’t lose touch with reality. It’s safe to say we excel in 140 characters or in a Facebook status update (smiley faces included), but this can’t be at the expense of real conversation.
When I first came here over four years ago, I couldn’t get over how friendly everyone was. They say Ireland, where I’m from, is the land of “a hundred thousand welcomes” (or “céad míle fáilte” to anyone who’s happened to enjoy a pint with one of my expat compatriots!), but from my experience Vancouverites couldn’t have been more welcoming from the get-go.
I read all of these articles about Vancouver being an anti-social “no fun city” before I arrived, and when I landed on Canadian soil I just couldn’t understand it. With all there is to do, and with passersby smiling and saying ‘hello’ on the street (in retrospect, this was probably due to the big goofy smile that didn’t leave my face for the first year here) – I asked myself, what’s not to love? Sure, the women may have a reputation as being the pickiest in Canada, or the men depending on your preference, but they have a right to be fussy given their surroundings. Talk about being spoiled for choice!
But now, I’m sorry to say, as time has gone on I’ve slowly realized to my chagrin just what everyone’s been complaining about all this time. Yes, it’s relatively easy to make ‘acquaintances’ and to share idle chat, but making lasting friends is a whole different kettle of fish.
Much to my dismay, I’ve found that while Vancouverites will always have a kind word to say and a Hollywood smile to match, they’re much harder (organic, mind) nuts to crack than first anticipated. Not to tar everyone with the same brush, but I’ve found that locals tend to keep “outsiders” at arm’s length and can be a bit hesitant to let you in. Even my Irish charm can only get me so far!
It’s sad that all any of us wants is some genuine conversation and a shoulder to lean or cry on, depending on how the Canucks perform this season (the first thing I learned when landing here is that there’s always time to debate Luongo’s worth), but the rainbow of umbrellas cascading down any given street create a literal barrier to any real human contact.
If only we could recreate our awesome tight-knit online community in the real world. Local bus driver Brian Revel has even created a Say “Hi” on the Bus Facebook page to promote scheduled days where transit users take out their ear buds which he says, “shuts so much of this great world, and some amazing people, out,” to connect and engage with fellow travellers. Technology bringing us back together – the irony is not lost on us.
Maybe when we’re all robots, living a double life like Bruce Willis in the uncomfortably foreseeable 2009 film Surrogates, where humans live in isolation and interact through surrogate robots, this real world disconnect won’t matter as much. Let’s just hope it won’t come to that, eh Vancouver?