“The world is more connected than it’s ever been before.”

“We can connect with people on the other side of the world in seconds.”

“Our relationships now move at the speed of light.”

We’ve all heard variations on those themes and it’s at least partially true. We can reach people on the other side of the planet in seconds, but…

How is all of this affecting our world? How does it affect our relationships? Are things better for it?

The recent high profile suicides of Anthony Bourdain, Kate Spade, and Avicii (and Chris Cornell, Lucy Gordon, and Robin Williams, and on and on) have brought to light the idea that maybe we aren’t as connected as we might like to be or need to be!

Suicide has risen 25% in the US over the last two decades while at the same time, the world had become connected through the internet.

I don’t have all of the answers, but I wanted to spend some time talking about some of the things that we can do to turn this tool into a way for our lives to get better and for some of us to be happier.

Here is a list of the rules that I use that make it a bit easier to stay connected, even through the internet.

Emojis are not emotions – We’ve gotten so used to giving a thumbs up for everything that we see. We put up a frowny face or an angry face and we think that we’ve interacted with people. Don’t just through these quick and simple emotions. It’s like having someone walk up to you on the street and say, “My son graduated from college,” we flash them a thumbs up, and move on. We would never do that. We would ask questions. “What’s his major?” “Has he found work yet?” and so on. Treat Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites just like you would real-life. Start a conversation or “cross to the other side of the street.”

Use the phone – Call people as often as you can. Make a point of calling three of your friends at least once a week. Talk to them and let them know what your voice sounds like. You are likely to learn more in a single 15-minute phone call than in a week of posts. It doesn’t take a lot to dial a phone and say, “Hey, I’m glad we’re friends. What’s up in your life?”

Get out of the echo chamber – People are hardening in their views because they only hear their own perspective. We tend to only listen to people who think like us and who share similar posts. That means that if we are members of the flat earth society and we only listen to other flat-earthers, we never hear the point of view of someone who thinks that the earth is round. Actively look for ways to engage with people who don’t agree with you. Listen to what they have to say. Ask lots of questions. You don’t have to agree, but you can also not argue. Making social media social again is at heart of learning more about our world and the people we share it with.

Don’t behave any different than you would in real life – It’s rare for someone to completely cut someone out of their lives simply because they disagree on a single subject. On social media, it happens all the time. A friend of mine was saddened by Anthony Bourdain’s suicide and he said so on his Facebook page. A vegan friend came in and said, “This is what people are sad about? Boo-hoo!” because Bourdain wasn’t a vegan and had often been seen eating meat. After a heated discussion about how mean-spirited and counterproductive it was to be so nasty about a man’s suicide, she unfriended my friend. That probably would have never happened in the real world, but on social media, it happens all the time. Be just as nice and kind online as you are in real-life.

Breathe! – This relates to your online behavior. Take a breath. Step away. Let them know that they’re important to you and that you don’t want to say things that you might regret. You’ll reach back out soon, but for now, you want to step away. I’ve seen lifelong friendships and even intimate relationships ruined over stuff that was said online, stuff that usually had to do with politics, not real-life. (Sorry, but the events in Washington have about as much effect on our lives in the short-term as events on Mars. It all trickles down, but losing friends and family over it won’t change a thing.) Take a few minutes to breathe and do a bit of an emotional check.

Write a letter every month – It doesn’t have to be long, but take the time to write a letter to family member or friend once a month. The art of letter writing is disappearing and it’s a shame. Letters used to be a way for us to communicate and even the act of putting pen to paper meant that we were thinking about that person. Taking the time to write a letter can make someone’s day a lot brighter and even inspire a stronger friendship.

Yes. We’re all connected, but it’s not necessarily for the better. But like everything else that humans have ever created, it’s not the tool, but the use. If we approach social media the same way that we approach everything else, as a tool not as a destination, we will discover that we can be more connected and actually be successful.

The issue of suicide is complex and I don’t want to imply that it can all be blamed on alienation, but from the information in the world, that seems to play a large part.

Connect more and everybody will feel better.