The Power of Proximity

The Power of Proximity

In the world of real-life relationships, we often build friendships based on proximity.

We become close friends with others in large part because we live or work close to them.

Rebecca lived downstairs from me when I lived in Chicago. Only about 12 steps separated our front doors.

Sheila lived downstairs too — right below us; on the day she moved in, I grilled hamburgers on our back deck and invited her to join us for dinner, the first of many meals we shared.

If you’ve ever lived in a multi-unit condo building, apartment, or dorm, you know that sometimes living close to others can create friction and discord. “Your kids are too noisy.”  “Your car is too close to my parking space.” “You’re not doing your share of the building maintenance.” 

Since Sheila lived below us, she knew when one of our kids got up at night; she could mark the moment at night when they were all settled in their beds. Instead of allowing our noise to cause conflict, she called it comfort. I like knowing you’re up there, she said.

Living in proximity may remove privacy but it also allows for regular and frequent interaction that deepens and intensifies a friendship.If Sheila had a bad day, I could pop downstairs to listen face-to-face. Rebecca and I took walks to the park together after the birth of her first son.

Living in proximity removes the boundaries of time and distance, and spontanaiety rules. Spending time together seems easy when you’re already in the same place.

I’m walking to Dairy Queen… want to come? We have some extra soup… join us for dinner? It’s too cold to go outside today… let’s get the kids together for a movie party.

You can use the power of proximity to build social media connections, as well.

Hang out in the same places at the same times. If you want to use the power of proximity in your online relationships, think about where you want to hang out online and when it makes sense for you to do that. Is Twitter your place? Facebook? A business or special interest related online community? Do you like early mornings? Lunch hour? Late nights? Weekends? When you choose your time and place, pay attention to who else shows up. Those people who consistently show up? They’re the ones who are likely to become your close online friends.  

I am often on Twitter in the early morning. Because I have made that my habit, I’ve gotten to know who the other early birds are. We seek each other out for conversation and engagement. 

Bring people closer on purpose. I create Twitter lists of friends I want to follow closely so I can see their tweets even if we’re not online at the same time. Since it’s impossible to read EVERY TWEET of every person I’m following, Twitter lists help me hone in on the most important ones.

I think of the people on my Twitter lists as my next door neighbors. Whenever I come online to play, I see their familiar faces. I can wave, say hi, make the connections that build our relationships.

Connect more often, in more places. Real life relationships grow closer when people interact in new environments. If I want to help you know me better, I invite you to my house. Or if you have only known me at home, I invite you to my workplace. If I let you see me in various places, I create context for our relationship which helps you know and understand me better.

Online, we can build stronger connections by interacting across multiple social media platforms. I may share some parts of my life on Twitter, and I share more on Facebook. If you read my blog, you will get to know me even more. If we connect on Skype, you will probably be able to tell instantly when I’m online. If I turn on my camera, you will see my sometimes wildly crazy curly hair. Or you’ll find out that I am usually wearing jeans and a T-shirt.

Connecting across many platforms may remove privacy, but it creates context, gives people a more complete perspective of who I am, and allows for spontaneous conversations. 

Tell me something! What close real-life relationships have you formed because of proximity? How do you use the power of proximity in your online relationships? How important is privacy to you in real life? Online?

Filed As:  Twitter, context

About Becky Robinson

I am the owner of Weaving Influence and the leader of the Weaving Influence team. We help authors and thought leaders grow their online influence. I am also a wife and mom of three daughters, and I enjoy running, reading, writing, a good cup of coffee, and dark chocolate.

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What People Are Saying

  • Becky,

    I read your article and could not agree more on the power of proximity. My life has been greatly affected by proximity. Currently I am 25 but my story starts in 8th grade. I dated a girl for three months because she was in a couple of my classes, I think we held hands twice danced awkwardly once together and broke up on AIM. Truly a magical relationship.

    Fast forward 6 years, I am a student at the University of Buffalo and decided to dorm my soph year after commuting my freshmen year. I am going to school for finance and not really sure why because I hate number crunching and don’t particularly enjoy the relevant classes but I figure i can make a decent buck at it. I end up dorming the floor right below the girl I “dated” in 8th grade, hadn’t really talked to her much since then but we hit off and oddly enough end up dating again.

    This isn’t a love story by any means because we dated for a couple years but in the end we just weren’t the right match. She was a great girl with a great family that I had no idea at the age of 20 was impacting my life so much. Her Dad worked for Verizon and he recommended I apply for this summer job doing marketing as a Brand Ambassador for Verizon. Pretty much got paid 16 bucks an hour to talk to people and hang out at cool functions and really enjoyed the work. I switched my major from Finance to Marketing my senior year because I loved it so much and still graduated on time.

    I worked with the marketing company representing Verizon for a couple years and when I graduated with a stroke of luck managed to land a three month mobile tour where I traveled all over the East Coast and Mid-west promoting TGIF’s Cocktail lines at grocery stores (I came in second for interviewing for the position but the girl who got the job quit on them the week before it started). Here I was 21 traveling the country making real good money and enjoying life. This was the start of 5 years of work traveling North America and also working a lot in my home of Buffalo. I saved up a lot and bought my first house a double in North Buffalo at the age of 23. Eventually the fun gravy train of mobile tour work ended but I left a great impression with Verizon here that I got scooped up for an Ads Sales job. Well the job made me miserable and I became hardened to corporate america and all of its restrictions and words like synergy and progress reports and recaps…. I didn’t know what to do and thats what brings me here to my present state.

    I quit my job realizing I have some money saved up and my house being a double and also renting to some friends helps cover my bills. I thought about what I was passionate about and the one thing that kept coming back is how much I hate corporate america and how it chokes out your creative soul. I read Pamela Slims Escaping Cubicle Nation and loved it, along with Four Hour Work Week and Art of Nonconformity. I was pretty sure I was destined to not work a 9-5 but not sure what to follow. So I took a look at my passions and strengths… apparently I really loathed corp america and I consider myself creative and a funny writer at times. So i created a website dedicated to people who are miserable at their jobs. I literally just started marketing it last Monday but have been seeing some response which is exciting to see and I am hoping this takes me somewhere new.

    All in all I can always say from this moment on in my life that whatever I do and wherever I go 100% of my life has been affected from proximity. An awkward girl in 8th grade who sat by me in Art helped me travel most of North America for work, buy a house and now start to move toward my next chapter. I hardly talk to her now but she is doing well and I have always been grateful for meeting her and her family and their positive impact on my life. Power of proximity!

  • I miss those days of living only a couple of blocks away! Developing proximity in suburbia is something that I’m still trying to figure out. Our church family is the main place for connection in our lives and lots of people care about us there, but quite a few people seem to struggle with developing friendships. In some ways it seems like we over analyze friendships before they can even start. Are we compatible? What do we have in common? Will our spouses get along? Before you know it we’ve talked ourselves out of even trying.

    I’ve definitely found a couple of blogs that fill that need for connection, but when I started a blog it seems more difficult. People seem reluctant to respond to posts. Is it the vulnerability factor? Privacy? Just not connecting with the blog? I’m not sure.

    • Lisa,
      I miss those days of living close by also. I thought of you when I was writing this post.

      Your comment is really intriguing. I am curious why the people around you in suburbia are working so hard at relationships… second guessing them before they even start. What I hope and pray is that God will surround you with friends who slip into your life easily, surprising you with their generosity and encouragement.

      We need to catch up by phone, soon.


  • I was an only child growing up in Battle Creek, Michigan. So the only “brothers and sisters” I had were the other kids in my neighborhood. Fortunately there were plenty. Some of my fondest memories come from that period in my life.

    Unfortunately I lost touch with most of them after I moved to Tucson. But I picked up some new friends in my neighborhood there. It seems that I’ve always had a knack for connecting with neighbors. Proximity is definitely important.

    I really like how you define proximity online. Places and times. It’s how I met you – participating in the #leadfromwithin twitter chat. Like, you I tend to be on Twitter in the early mornings (except on most weekends) and we kept “running into” each other. Now we’re friends.

    It’s cool how the Net allows for friendships that may not be within proximity physically but can be by interest, time, “virtual” place, etc. The Internet is definitely changing our world, that’s for sure.

    • David,
      Thanks for being one of my close online neighbors. 🙂


  • Becky,

    It’s not without a great sense of irony that I recognize myself in your posting. I live in a relatively small complex in Southern California and know only a handful of people that I would otherwise consider to be my “neighbors”.

    In a very real sense, I consider that I have deeper, richer and more meaningful relationships and interactions with those that I connect to using social media than those who are just outside of my front door.

    It’s not that I don’t want to know them or wouldn’t take/make the time to get to know them. In fact, there are several examples arrived on just that. But it seems that these are the exception, not the rule.

    One of things that I think that both your posting and my direct experience points to is that proximity is more relational than it is physical. Where there is sufficient interest, the requirement for physical proximity is either decreased substantially (or eliminated).

    I think that this is true up to a certain point where physical proximity once again becomes important, as it would represent taking the relationship to the next level.

    My take away on all this is that it’s about engagement and connection. If you’re truly engaged, it doesn’t matter whether you are around the corner or around the world.

    With social media, the opportunity to connect transcends time and space.


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