Social Media Survival Manual 2: My Eight Commandments in Building Connection

The most forcible magnet that draw us to social media is to express our identity. So yesterday, I published My Four Commandments to Showcase Identity. Today, you will find my Commandments to seize the second most powerful potential: to build connection. 

Thanks to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and the like, I can peek at – or  stalk – a friend’s life with the click of my finger, instead of writing letters and send through owls. This is all convenient and great, if only connection is built easily.

I want you to imagine this scene:

I’m in my room after a long day, finally having free time. But without anything to do, I began to feel bored. So I reached for my phone; an exciting world is waiting on the web. On the touch screen, my thumb flickers mechanically and hastily. There’s an indifferent look on my face. I clicked the like button of my friend’s new-hair-cut photo, status of an old friend who’s just gotten engaged, status of a friend who’s just changed job. I comment “:D” but there’s no grin on my face. I don’t read each update fully. There are so many of them to go through. Scroll down. Scroll down. Oh! Another new-hair-cut photo! I like! Oh! A cat! I like! Scroll down. Scroll down. Whoosh! One hour is gone!

This is me before.

Did I feel connected after that one hour? No, I did not.

I couldn’t even recall any significant events that happened to a friend, neither could I know a little more about her personality, her world view, her likes and dislikes. I even felt depleted, it was soul-sucking! And guilt started to hit me for wasting one precious hour.

If you feel like that, you are not alone. We are all in this together. Let’s find a way out.


The problem doesn’t lie in how social media operates, or its interface, or its functions. The problem lies in our current society, which worships productivity, speed, busyness. This social setting feeds our monkey mind, which always jumps around search for the next banana, the next distraction, the next to-do. We complain that we don’t have time. Yet we can’t tolerate our own free time. And social media comes along, and our monkey mind can’t be happier. It’s gone nuts. Never before has it been able to devour so many bananas at so much ease: a portal to the outside world with a single click of a key. So it bounces from one shiny banana to another.

When I reflect on how I used social media, it is obvious that I accessed it when I’m bored: waiting in the supermarket line, commuting in the tram, sitting in classes, and so on. This is an important realization. In real life we don’t turn to the person standing next to us at a party and say: “Hey I’m bored! Wanna get to know?” So that doesn’t work online either.

My light bulb went off: what strengthens relationship in real world works online too, and to use social media mindfully is the key for building connection. With that in mind, I created the Eight Commandments in Building Connection online:

1. Be myself – connection is impossible without authenticity and truth. This is also Commandment in Showcasing Identity

2. Be online with a purpose – before plunging into the bazaar of sharing and updates, I remind myself to create genuine connections, to make others and myself happier.  I also put a limit on the time, often 20 minutes.

3. Never check social media out of boredom - Have you ever sit down in front of your laptop and the next thing you know is you are scrolling down Facebook news feed? Well, welcome to the club!Lots of us have the habit to reach for our phones and check Facebook whenever we’re bored – by habit I mean we unconsciously do it. Mindlessly checking social media is not having a break. It is the opposite of having a break. Pause for a moment now and read the previous sentence again to marinate in it. Screwing around online is both time-wasting and soul-sucking. In my free time, I rather read a book, meditate, or watch a good movie instead.

4. Read each update, completely and attentively – in real world, this means “be a good listener”. I want to read each news as if the person is sitting in front of me with her eyes fixed on mine. It’s magical to see beyond the text box to the breathing, living person on the other side of the screen. She is telling her story, and I want to understand it. The renowned Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh once said “When you understand, you cannot help but love.” Taking the time to understand those stories helps me feel connected and ultimately cultivate my love for others.  

5. Depth triumphs quantity.  When I’m in a social gathering, I prefer to converse deeper with a few people than to “work the room” and collect business cards like squirrel picking chestnuts before winter. The same principle applies online. With 20-minute allotted – Commandment 2 – and to read each update fully – Commandment 4 – plus, when I read mindfully, I naturally feel like to comment.  Therefore, not so many news gets to be read, but it doesn’t really matter. I want hearts, not eyeballs.

6. Be happy for others – the world is abundant. It hits me once in a while. You know, social media is the platform for us to shout out our great achievements to the world. I wrote about jealousy once. And if you also suffer from jealousy, you are not alone. We are jealous not because we are evil or morally derailed. We are jealous because we make the mistake of comparing ourselves with others. And this comparison obliges us to see the world through the wrong end of the binocular, when everything is petty and bleak, while the true world is grand and abundant. But we can always turn that binocular around. 

7. Let go of people who makes me feel unhappylife is just too short. People that do nothing but vent, leave rude comments, boast or spread garbage. I’m not sorry to unfriend, unfollow or block them.

8. Get offline – not least, nothing can replace looking in each other’s eyes. Whenever possible I ask the person whom I sincerely want to know better for a coffee. No one blasts all of themselves on the web. Nor should they. Though I hope the bits and pieces they choose to share are genuine and authentic, there is always a vast iceberg underwater. Nothing can replace a warm embrace, the sound of laughter, and a gaze in each other’s eyes.

Those are Eight Commandments I try to abide, step by step, each day. I still sometimes open Facebook by habit, but being aware of this habit is in itself a gate opener of change. The denominator of all Commandments can be encapsulated in one word: mindful. Welcome to a Zen-like way of navigating the social network.

By the way, below is my desktop background – a calligraphy by “Thầy” – this means teacher in Vietnamese – Thich Nhat Hanh: Breathe, you are online.


What about you?

Are you breathing?

If you haven’t, couple this read with Social Media Survival Manual 1: My Four Commandments to Showcase Identity.

More on connection, expand your perspective with Choose Love – Turning Anger into Connection, or First, Take Your Shoes Off – Step by Step Instruction on Empathy

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Photo Credit: Matt on Flickr