I am feeling sad and a bit ashamed of myself.

Something happened — a wake-up call about this notion of social media “community” and “conversation.” It’s making me pause and reflect on what we’re really all about here on the social web. What I’m about.

Last year I collaborated with a bright young woman named Jenn Whinnem.   I didn’t know her at all and in fact I kind of pulled her out of thin air to help with a post on sexism on the social web.  She had made a random Twitter comment to me about women and blogging and I suggested that she write about it instead of talking to me about it … and one thing led to another, including a great post called “Is Blogging a Man’s Job?”

Since then, Jenn and I have been regular Twitter buddies and she has been a frequent contributor to {grow} through her comments in the community.

She recently revealed on a guest post on Jayme Soulati’s blog that she has a terminal disease, cystic fibrosis, and suffers every day.  Until this moment, I had put Jenn in the category of “friend” but realized I did not even know this single important fact that dominates her life, in fact dominates every breath she takes.   I hadn’t even talked to her on the phone. I would have heard the coughing. I would have asked her about it. I could have, and should have, known.

I lost sight of what it means to be a friend. It’s a word that has been social-media-cheapened and distorted for a new generation and I got caught up in it too.

While many of us pontificate and debate about the heralded Age of Conversation, I’m realizing we’re not having conversations at all.  Twitter is not a conversation. Commenting on blogs is not a conversation — it’s usually just a comment.  We see these little smiling avatars each day without really having a clue about the person behind the picture.

Isn’t it ironic that a thousand blog posts have been written about the importance of “the conversation” and more truthfully, the social web enables us to avoid conversations through status updates and other non-invasive procedures.

After a speech last week, I hung around to meet people and answer questions.  One young lady had some in-depth questions about how she could improve her business. Obviously I could not effectively answer the questions with 10 people waiting in line to talk. So I gave her my card and said, “Look, just call me. We can talk next week. I’ll try to help you.”  She looked like I had just hit her with a club. Funny how a phone call is regarded as something extraordinary these days.

I’ve decided that I want to do better. I want to have real conversations and make real friends.  I have gained so much from actually talking on the phone — and even meeting — the people on {grow}.  And yet, most of you are still strangers.  Want to talk?

I’ll trust you to handle this in a sensitive way, but if you’re interested, I would love for you to call or Skype me. Seriously. Let me know who you are and what we can do to help and support each other. My phone number is all over the website.  And who knows, I might just randomly call you.

In fact, I think I need to start with Jenn.

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