I spent last weekend in Toronto at PodCamp, and presented a session with Mark Blevis and Chris Brogan about Return on Influence.  What Mark and I call the real ROI (rather than return on investment) of new media.  This session was about how the power of new media is in building bridges and relationships between people.  Mark and Chris are just two of the many example of people I would never have had a chance to meet or talk to, outside of podcasting.

Why is this important? 

The internet is a small village, as I’ve said before.  It makes the whole outside world smaller as well.  If you grow up in a small town, you learn very quickly that there are benefits to knowing everyone, and burdens as well.  You know everybody’s business, and they know yours.  You have to get comfortable with the fact that your proverbial window shades are up all the time, and anyone passing by can take a peek, if they are so inclined.

Yet in small towns, individuality can be painful.  If you think something is particularly cool,  you may not be able to share that interest with very many people.  For example, I played squash in high school and college, and was nationally ranked. (Unfortunately, this was back in 1983, and it’s not online).   But since many people think squash is a vegetable and not a game, I was a bit weird to most people I knew.

Because of the interconnectivity of the internet and broadband connections, any odd facet of yourself can find an outlet.  You can research any topic, find a group of like minded people, and no longer feel so alone. This is the main reason I started the LD Podcast-so parents and people with learning disabilities no longer felt alone.  It was so we could all talk openly about what it’s like to manage kids with ADHD in the house, or have a child with Asperger’s.  And by being “out of the closet” on these issues, other people won’t feel so alone or scared.  On the internet, there’s always someone who has your interests or problems, and often times, the collective resources help you solve or cope with your challenges, much more effectively than you could ever do on your own.

There have been recent stories among my group of Super Heroes from PodCamp where one person was stranded due to bad weather with his family in an airport, without their luggage or resources.  Friends, from a distance of several hundred miles came to the rescue through an online sms service called twitter , and got him food, shelter and clothes in his hour of need.  That’s the power of the internet and making new friends.

I found out a friend couldn’t make a conference because of the new passport restrictions, so I offered to pick them up.  We ended up having a really fun road trip, and got to know each other better.  This is friend-sourcing, as Chris Brogan puts it.  You ask your community for help, ideas, information, and they respond, quickly, with great ideas that help you get things accomplished.  Chris Penn, for example, has helped me out on a project, and has given me great advice on how to tweak my website and podcast.  He gives this information freely, without keeping score.

Now like any friendships, you need to give as well as receive.  The more you keep things closed off, the less you share, the less freely help will come your way.

What’s amazing is that since 9/11, people have gotten more and more paranoid and suspicious by nature.  We suspect that the world is a big dangerous place, where everyone wants to take advantage of you.  In some towns, people walk around with non-disclosure agreements in their pockets and hand them out like business cards.  As a lawyer, I am prone to this kind of paranoia, but I like it much better when I can just have a conversation with a friend and talk about stuff. I’d rather share, and possibly take advantage of a positive feedback loop of new information and ideas, rather than one that limits the input and choices I can make.  let’s face it, there are a million good ideas out there, and not all of them will ever see the light of day.  Many will die, because no one has the time, energy or interest to execute them properly.  If I can pitch a good idea over to a friend and let it stick and grow, I am much happier, not because of the “ownership” of the idea, but that it made a difference to someone else.  This is giving back.  This is community.

I ran into a bunch of moms I know at the grocery store, and we naturally began to share stories and opinions of the local schools, news of what was going on- not gossip, but a free exchange of ideas and suggestions.  A lot of the moms I know talk about things they’re looking for for a kid’s birthday, for example,  and just by telling me, I have become deputized and will let her know if I find a source for said item.  By sharing, you just got more eyes, more time, and more resources at your disposal than ever before.

So don’t be selfish.  Share a little.  You won’t be sorry.