Jay Baer wrote a pretty fantastic post this last week. I think it threw a bit of icy cold water on the online world. Or maybe it was more like a Don Quixote moment of, “Oh wait, that’s really how it is.” Have you read his post? It’s about the use of the word “friend” and whether we can truly get to know each other in this online space.

I’ve been thinking about this post a lot lately. I thought about this post as I watched people duke it out verbally in a comments section that should have been somber and respectful. I thought about it even more as I saw a tweet whizz by yesterday – “The hardest entrepreneurial lessons 9/11 teaches us” or something of that sort. I thought about it when someone whom I had opted not to follow back on Twitter tweeted me to say, “Sorry, we only follow people who follow us.”

Although everything Jay says about the online world is true, I now am leaning towards a slightly different supplementary perspective. It’s not just hard to get to know people online. It seems to be getting harder for people to be human online. And by human, I mean a well-rounded person with feelings, compassion, manners, courtesy, and other pretty basic characteristics that distinguish us from say…earwigs.

Holy Cow! Brands are people!

I remember when social media really first started taking off. I first started really reading about it in 2006 I’d say. The thing that got people really excited was the idea that I, representing xyz company or brand, could get to know my customers, my prospects, and you – representing xyz brand or company. All of us would be putting human faces to the names and numbers, right? You remember those days. It was the flower child days of the online world, when customer service, marketing, communication, and pretty much everything else would become serenely beautiful because we’d all be people talking to people.

Much like a comic book, however, we ended up creating a sort of mutant hybrid that is part human, part digital image. Instead of worrying about relationships or sales, we started focusing on numbers of followers, blog traffic, and Facebook fans/likes/thumbs up/whatever it will be called next. We stopped communicating as humans. We also stopped communicating as brands or businesses. We started to become this weird online version of ourselves that is not really who we are and not really who our companies are.

Why don’t you ask how that person is doing?

It’s not a secret that my blog here does not get the most amazing traffic ever. In fact, I will tell you that most of the time, I get 150 visits or so a day. Now, the me of last year would have drooled over that. Everything is relative. But compared to the thousands of hits other sites get every day, I am not just small potatoes, I’m like a small eye of a potato. However, one thing I can say is that a large percentage of the people who visit here do something with my posts. A lot of you comment, which is my favorite thing. Many people tweet out posts or share them via other social media platforms.

More to the point, in terms of my community in general, which extends from here to Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, and a bit to LinkedIn, I can say that I speak on a regular basis to people I genuinely care about, and I think they might genuinely care about me as well. Sure we may not know contextual things like spouse names or how many kids, but I know that if I am having a problem, I can go to them and say, “Dude!” And they know they can approach me the same way.

We are humans, interacting with each other as humans would in a very crowded party. Sometimes we leave the party to talk one-on-one and then we go back in. But we care about each other. If something is up, we ask how the other person is doing. We send our condolences when there is loss. We send offers to help, and we do. As Jeannette Baer said so eloquently in a comment on my last post, why shouldn’t people just ask other people how they’re doing? Amen.

WWARHD? (What would a real human do?)

I wonder what you would find if you skim your online reality for signs of humanity. I find a lot of true humans in the circles I engage in. People like Chase Adams, Danny Garcia, the aforementioned Jeannette Baer, Joe Ruiz, and many many others. But I also see people using 9/11 as a how-to blog topic. I see people using a person’s death as a means to get a blog traffic spike. Automation seems to be taking over the world.

If we cannot be humans, is it any wonder we can’t formulate real relationships? You can’t prioritize the numbers and also create real relationships. You can’t view people as experimental lab rats and also expect undying loyalty. It has to be, it seems to me, one or the other.

Maybe that’s the real problem in the online world. We’re not people who need people. We’re automated X-Men who need more numbers wherever we go.

What do you think? Am I on to something here or am I crazy?