Thursday, February 19, 2009

Social Networking for Our Sociable Brains

It all started a few weeks ago with a simple question: “Do you blog?” My too-quick answer was “No, why should I spend my time writing stuff no one else will read.” But several more discussions at networking events made it clear to me that I was missing something.

So, true to my usual MO, I did some research to find out what was up with all this blogging, linking and tweeting. I started reading other people’s blogs, and before I knew it, hours had gone by and I realized, uh-oh, I’m hooked. What’s going on here? When the answer finally hit me, it was one of those “duh” moments. We blog, link and tweet because it’s a way to connect with others in a world where the news gets scarier by the day. It’s how we share a piece of ourselves with others and see into their hearts and minds. It’s the modern equivalent of sitting on the front porch in a small town, chatting with your neighbors and feeling part of a community.

And then I remembered Daniel Goleman’s recent book, Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships, in which he says “we’re wired to connect. Neuroscience has discovered that our brain’s very design makes it sociable, inexorably drawn into an intimate brain-to-brain linkup whenever we engage with another person. That neural bridge lets us affect the brain—and so the body—of everyone we interact with, just as they do us.” Our brain circuitry contains what are called “mirror neurons," which reflect back the feelings and actions we observe in others so we mimic or mirror those same feelings and actions. In other words, if we see someone smile or cry, we tend to feel the same emotion and imitate the action without even thinking about it.

As we interact with others, our words and actions can actually reshape the neural circuitry in their brains, for better or worse. That’s an awesome impact, and one that should make us stop and think before we engage our tongues or our keypads.

Goleman ends the book by stating “the crucial challenge for this century will be to expand the circle of those we count among Us, and shrink the numbers we count as Them.” For me, that’s the lure of social networking—to expand my circle of “Us”. So let’s use these powerful tools as a way to nourish our connections with each other to make a difference in the world!