Last night, I helped host a TribNation and TribLocal event with Lake County Tweetup.
It was almost surreal to meet so many of the great people I work with—primarily online and also over the phone—in person. And the community of local Twitterers is strong and vocal on my TweetDeck, but even more so live and in color.
Sharing pizza and drinks, exchanging business cards and thoughtful ideas about our community all reinforced to me what we know to be true: meeting in person can't be replaced by any other interaction. There's something about sharing a Chicago deep dish with people that makes those connections last.
But as one of social media's biggest advocates, there's another point I can't help but make. Without blogs, Twitter and the user-generated focus of TribLocal, I wouldn't know who most of those people are. I wouldn't know how much I wanted to finally meet them in person and establish friendships with Tweetup founders, entrepreneurs, foodies, world travelers and the sweetest person you'll ever meet.
That's what's so phenomenal about the new level of engagement social media allows for. It turns metropolitan areas—even an entire nation—into a community where, to quote a cliche, everyone knows your name, or at least your Twitter handle. So if we're smart, we'll use the new tools at our disposal to meet more people, hear more opinions and share more ideas online and in person.
As we exchanged hugs and handshakes, I felt like I was back in the small town where I grew up (Those tall structures aren't office buildings, by the way, they're silos).
It was just a longer commute home.