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Post 3:
Where can you make real friends online?

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I have about 700 friends on Facebook and I could un-friend three quarters of them without an inkling of remorse (it's on my to-do list). My web of connections is a whole lot broader thanks to social media, but it's also a whole lot shallower.

I've spent endless hours building up a massive network of meaningless connections, but at the expense of time with a few special friends I can depend upon. Of those 700, how many would come bail me out in the middle of the night? Probably less than a handful.

Let's be honest, when was the last time you met someone worthwhile through social media? Not somebody that you used to know at school, someone you couldn't be bothered with back then, and can't be bothered with now. No, I'm talking about finding real friends through social media.

The last few friend requests I've had have been from ageing aunts and their friends who've just twigged onto social media. Or Nigerians with whom I share a friend in common. Even those few people I meet in real life, and then look up on Facebook are but a blip on the screen. Somehow, thanks to Facebook's new algorithm my new friends? slip beneath the radar, never to be seen or heard from again.

And as my social network expands beyond reality, my inclination to share myself and my own musings diminishes. Like everyone else who's been burned by the harsh sun of social media, I fall back on the safe stuff, the same old memes and funny videos that everyone recycles, that reveals little if anything about the real me.

So where do we go to be ourselves and hang with people like us. Dating sites are for hook-ups, not for friendships and relationships, best built on respect, conversation, and at least a dash of decency.

Gather Online could be what we've been missing as it offers a quiet space online to get together with real friends, away from all the clutter and noise, away from the prying eyes of old aunts and ex girlfriends. But it's success all depends on whether people have the appetite for a focussed online gathering where there is as much pressure to engage as a cocktail party. One thing's for sure, only when we are comfortable enough to reveal our true selves and engage in the intense, awkward process of getting to know others in real conversation, can we start the process of initiating and building real friendships, and addressing the epidemic of loneliness sweeping through our society.

Post 2:
My problem with Facebook

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Unless you're someone with ironclad principles about what you're prepared to fill your time and mind with, you're probably as beholden to Facebook and social media as I am.

Since 2006, when I started gathering my circle of friends and family about myself and sharing my every holiday snapshot with them, I had thought social media would accelerate my social life and make me a more popular, likeable person.

But I still feel like I'm just talking to a wall.

It's one of those weird Internet paradoxes, that while technology has created a world where we are never more than a click away from anyone we want to chat to, the impetus to do so is gone.

Social media has made us more connected than ever, and yet study after study has shown that we have never been lonelier. How can we be surrounded by so many people, and yet feel so desperately alone?

Scrolling down my news feed, it's a bit like peak hour on the freeway, alone in a crowd, craning our necks to gawk at a car crash to the right, or dodging the drunk driver, or staring numbly at the bumper sticker on the car in front, but never really stopping to get involved.

Most days I stare at the wall for hours, procrastinating, hoping for something inspired, only to be let down by a deepening sense of numbness and dissatisfaction with the fodder that takes up my news stream these days. If it it's not tired memes or bits of meaningless emotional blackmail that go round and round like the swill at the bottom of the sink, it's lame, thinly disguised ads from the few corporate pages I've liked, for my sins. Instagram and Twitter used to be better, but now they too are feeding our eyeballs to the beasts of advertising.

Just when we thought the point of social media was to bring people together and enhance our social lives by helping us to make connections with new and interesting people, really little of that's happening. Instead we tend to stay within our same old social circles. And those social circles are also taking strain. Because of our dependence on the illusion of intimacy offered by social media we go out and meet fewer people. We gather less. And when we do gather, our bonds are less meaningful and less easy. What's the point of catching up over coffee if you know all the news already?

So all this leads to our spending even more time couped up alone, staring at the wall hoping for something that feels a bit like intimacy.

I look forward to seeing how Gather Online changes that. Could it help lonely people like me connect with old friends and new people in a more honest, authentic way? Watch this space.

Post 1:
Wallowing in the Shallow End

Wallowing in the Shallow End

A chance to rant about the world in more than 140 characters? That's too good to pass up. So here it is, my first opinion piece for Gather Online on connection (or the lack of it) in today's social-media obsessed society.

How are we both more connected but arguably also lonelier than ever? Are the social channels we attend to so faithfully meeting our need for deeper, more meaningful relationships?

Or as Randy Ziegenfuss puts it, are we doomed to superficiality?

Just like you and a billion other people, I bought into the idea that interacting with more people on a surface level was better than interacting with fewer people on a deep level.

But after a long, hard look I've realised I hardly know anyone anymore!

Sure, I know when they get engaged or have a baby, where they take their holidays and where they're working. But know them? Nah. Knowing someone means being exposed to their lows as well as their highs, their flaws as well as their favourite features, how they react when uncomfortable or embarrassed, or sad.

Social media invites us to show people glimpses of ourselves, but only those that will put our lives in the best possible light. This obsession with perfection hardly generates empathy in our audience. If anything, it engenders envy and dislike. What we forget when we share only our best pics is that perfect people are almost universally despised.

Looking after my social media has become a mammoth exercise in narcissism and personal PR. And like the ironing, it never ends. I've become so obsessed with my personal Truman Show, I can't summon up the effort it takes to maintain meaningful connections with real people.

So, having admitted that social media is turning me green with envy and exhaustion, what to do?

What we need is something new. So far, social media has had nothing on the real life gathering when it comes to making real friendships based on honesty and vulnerability. We need something that more closely reproduces the small real-life gathering.

Enter Gather Online, which promises to do just that. Because a Gathering is not broadcast to the world, it's just for the people there, and it's open for a limited time before it vanishes forever, people may be more likely to participate with their full attention, to use the opportunity while it lasts to figure the people there out. It may allow us to open up and reveal our true thoughts, warts and all, because it is ephemeral- it's like a real life conversation in that it does not leave a permanent mark behind.

Gather Online brings some focus to the social media experience. A quiet corner to chat, a set time and place to focus on the real people in the room?, and an opportunity to talk about what matters to us.

In this bog of shallow, superficial social media connections, could Gather Online be any different? I would ask for comments but I guess it would be more fun to have a Gathering about it, to see what you think!


Hi, I'm Kristi. The Gather CEO gave me the job of testing Gather Online out and writing my thoughts about what role it could play in the life of everyday people like myself. So here goes..