I See Waves of Humanity

by Nate St. Pierre on May 21, 2012

That’s what it feels like to me when I think about it. Like I’m standing at the edge of a boundless ocean of people, and wave after wave of them keep rolling in at me. That’s what it can feel like when much of your life is lived in social media.

We all have our own little section of the beach, our own area of influence, where everything we do and say is reflected back to us in the action of the water before us. When we first arrive at the beach and stake our claim, the words we speak have little effect. The water is low and calm, the mass of people unaware that we even exist. But as we send more thoughts and words and actions out over the depths, the water begins to move, and the waves begin to find us.

At the very start I took the time to know each one personally, to fully experience the rushing water coming up around my ankles, only to swirl back again into the ocean, eddying around my bare feet, carving pockets in the wet sand as it left. Each one changed my world in its own little way, and I took care to notice.

After a while, as the waves get bigger, it becomes all too easy to miss the individuality of the people inside each one. I start to group them. I start to label them. One size fits all, right? This is the Philanthropy wave. This is the Business wave. This is the Can You Help Me Out wave. The Hater wave. The Diehards. The Fans, the Followers, the Competition, the Fakers, the Jokers, the Scammers. Each one gets just a quick look and a label, because they’re coming bigger and faster now, and I don’t have time to take in the full experience and examine every part of it, because I’m trying to maintain my own footing without getting tripped up in the roiling, knee-high water.

Pretty soon I get to the point where I can look out into the distance, five or six crests out, and tell who’s coming and what they’ll want . . . and how I’m going to treat them, too. Do you do that? Think about it for a minute. It’s to the point where I have to have a plan of attack (or rather, defense) so I don’t get buffeted around by the sheer volume of the incoming rush.

And then, once in a while, a tsunami comes in. Fast, hard, and gigantic, I see it barreling down on me, and know I can do nothing but brace myself. Surely I can’t run – after all, I’m the one that brought it here. It’s coming directly for me. It’s my wave. If such things were possible, it would have my name on it. And when it all comes crashing down, it’s laughable to even think about capturing the individuality of its members. I’m just trying to survive, period.

After the flood has receded, and god willing I’ve kept my head above water the entire time, I begin to question what I’m doing on the beach in the first place. Is this what I envisioned when I first came here? Of course not – it never is – but is it better or worse than I thought it would be? It’s a tough question, one I’m sure you’ve asked yourself.

The impact I’m making on the ocean is obvious, but what of its impact on me? Soaked to the bone, muscles sore, breathing heavily . . . I’m tired. But at least I’m still standing. We all heard the roar and saw the wall of water that came down on Jason Russell and dragged him back out to sea a couple months ago. If I’m being honest with myself, I realize that in less fortunate circumstances that could have been me. It could have been any of us.

The questions keep coming: does everyone feel like this, or is it only me? Are we as individuals prepared for and comfortable with this one-to-millions form of interaction? Are some of us naturally built for this, or is it something we all have to learn? I’m sure many of us struggle with these same thoughts, just as I do. I don’t know any of the answers, but I do know that we all do the best we can.

Along the way it is truly a joy to see those who have taken their little stretch of beach and turned it into something lovely. Professionals like Amanda Hite, who has found a way to authentically make both money and meaning, and helps businesses do the same. Newcomers like Hannah Brencher, who has taken her gift of writing and given it to the world in a way we can all use to encourage others.

And right in the middle are people like you and me, who are standing, falling, struggling, learning, and growing in all of this each and every day. The ocean is intimidating, but it is also beautiful.

I believe we will find our way. Do you?

(Image source: mikebaird)

  • Hey man! I do have a similar realization, in terms of finding your passion and your purpose and I think for some, they get it immediately. They know what they want to and where they want to go. For me though, it’s an iteration, a slow evolution that took time to be clear. 

    It’s easy to have your day filled with the mundane and urgent, but withdraw yourself from the ocean of worries, step back into the sand of sanity and take time to reflect – then you’ll see what you need to do.

    I had this professional epiphany of some sort the past few days and I’m both nervous and excited to jump into the waters again! This time, with the right vest of hope and courage on my body 🙂 

  • Peliroo

    I think some people are made for it and some learn it.  I realized I can social multitask better than some, (maybe because I’m a mom) but forget not to expect the same from others.  I can tread through loads of people and probably feel similar to a preschool teacher at the end of the day, able to hang it all up like a coat.

    Also I think the universe boils down to frequencies so I feel it’s normal to get the ebb and flow of humanity,  that wall of several people that moves in and out.  

    I worry that I am not giving everyone the attention they deserve online.  To combat that I started something new – I take 1 or 2 people/day on one of my social networks and really look at their site.  It’s 5 minutes maybe, but I look at their photos, their bio, (if it’s up) and shoot them a quick positive note about what I see.  

    I think it’s normal to see a sea of people and put them in categories, after all, your brain processes that way, dumps all the info into schemas (yellow schema, tax schema, child schema, etc..) I think it’s merely an efficient way to look at a mass of data.  Maybe you feel a bit overwhelmed because you really care about the people.  Just guessing, but that seems logical to me.  If you didn’t care, I doubt this would be an issue.

    It feels like I remember this happening to you before.  I seem to remember telling you to take a break.  Hahaha. How often do you take a real break, as in days, away from the ether?

    • Yeah, this has happened to me in the past, and will probably continue to be an issue in the future. I do care, but I’m also a huge introvert, and masses of people make me uncomfortable (mostly IRL, but sometimes online, too). 

      I  haven’t taken a real break since I began this stuff three years ago. Not even really in days away. :-/

      • Peliroo

        I sense the introvert and lack of breaks. 🙂 You need them, though. Case in point, the latest breakthroughs in parallel universe and m theory occurred only when a small group of scientists took a break from a stuffy conference to see a play in London. On their way there, on the train they were relaxed, unfettered and batted an idea around that, by the end of the train ride, became the basis for the new theory. That break might give you clarity and provide te inspiration for even more ideas. It also resets the system. I had a bad month last month and actually hijacked a week for myself. I can see now it kept me sane. I’d go visit a historic area in American history. No meetings, a nice hotel or bed and breakfast and see history and the present intersect. I think you deserve a break, though.

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