Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Social Media's Inundation - A Blessing or a Curse?

A close friend of mine has been having a rough year.  Let's face it, we both have. We both use social media - Facebook, Twitter, name it, we have an account.  And as many people do, we post - not so much about the hard stuff, but about the mundane, the interesting, the funny, sports, current events.

Partially because of stress and partially due to my delightful neighbors, I enjoy a nice dose of insomnia almost every night. Next to my mattress on the floor lie my phone and my laptop, readily connected to wi-fi and fully charged. I know what you well-rested folks are saying, John Tesh told you that electronics in the bedroom are not conducive to good sleeping habits.  Too bad, John Tesh! I have to have something to do during the night that's quiet. My roommates won't appreciate me going downstairs and whipping up some yummy cookies at 3:00 AM, so I peruse my favorite social media apps, JUST IN CASE someone else might also share my love of Facebook at random times!

Thankfully, my friend does not read my blog. If this friend does, he will know my secret. (It's one of the few he doesn't, so I guess it's not that big of a deal.) However, since I rarely blog about the Giants, 49ers or FIFA, it's as likely as snow in the tropics that he's enjoying this delightful little rant. AT ANY RATE, I logged on to Twitter, hoping to get some good satire from The Onion, learn something that hadn't been repeated lately on Uber Facts, or see something less trashy from TMZ. To my surprise, my friend's Twitter posts were no longer showing on my feed. I thought, that's weird.  Now, I'm not super Twitter savvy. I'm more of a Facebook gal because I'm a little verbose. So, I went to my home page to make sure I hadn't accidentally unfollowed his page or some nonsense. When I got to his page, it said that, GASP! he had blocked me!!

(Segue to a little background.) We have been friends for about 10 years. Good friends. He's helped me through college, my church mission, marriage, divorce. My scruples prohibit my from airing his dirty laundry online, but trust me, after 10 years, there have been plenty of things on his side of the fence too.

So I put down the old iPhone, rolled over in bed, and thought WHAT AN $%%! After all, I'm a mature adult! One little block on a social media site has no bearing on a real friendship, right? We just talked on the phone this afternoon about real life STUFF! We had a genuine conversation using a 1980's communication medium. So why did something so small as a block on a site that I don't really use that much (I have 15 followers, people!) cause me to mentally curse, pick up the laptop at 4:00 AM and actually blog about it?

After I cursed at my friend in my head, I had to physically stop myself from writing a scathing email about how I'd been such an angel friend, a true saint, and he had the gall to block me, to take away my all-access pass to his Twitter world. Once I'd stopped myself from hiding behind my keyboard, I had to say, Aimee, don't you dare send that 3-page text message in the middle of the night. That's worse than an email.

I know I'm not alone in this. Another friend frequently posts on Facebook statements like, "Oh no, lost another friend. What did I do this time?" And how many of us have excitedly logged on to our social media accounts, seen that little icon saying someone wants to be our friend, follower, etc., only to realize it's THAT person, and rather than deny the request, we just ignore it? The virtual world is just that, virtual. It allows us to do and say things we would NEVER do in person. Ethics, decorum, and etiquette are abandoned because it's easier to simply ignore someone, delete that request or not comment back.

Then when we are the person excitedly awaiting a response from an old friend or hoping our new friend will accept our request, our self-esteem lies crushed on the floor when we don't get a response back.

I come from the last generation of kids to grow up without social media. I know what it was like to put myself out there and ask someone, "Do you want to be friends?" "Do you have plans this weekend?" "I like you." and do it all in person. I remember what it was like to have to use a cell phone to call people because texting cost an astronomical amount of money. Yet, when someone blocks me or unfriends me or doesn't like a post or picture that I think is AMAZING, I feel it.  When I have a real relationship with that person, I feel it even more. That's the most ironic part to me. Shouldn't it be less of a "big deal" because I know that my friendship with that person is real, because I know that they know I'm beautiful, special, congenial, important, smart, funny, and all the things my friends, and more importantly, I know I am?

Interestingly enough, because I thought my real friends knew those things about me, when I posted things I expected them to like, there was an expectation to see more little Facebook thumbs, more hearts on Instagram, more retweets and stars on Twitter. When that expectation remains unmet, the fallout is even greater.

My mom says she LOVES social media. She is on Facebook more than any person I know. She uses it to keep in touch with her siblings, cousins, friends from high school and college. She sends me little inspirational messages, comments on every picture my siblings post of their kids. She thinks it's the greatest thing ever. In contrast, my oldest niece and nephew have both had a tremendous amount of trouble with their Facebook accounts. They both have been bullied online. My niece, who is in 8th grade, is currently being home schooled because the bullying was so severe she could not continue at her public school.

So is social media really all it's cracked up to be? Does it really enhance our friendships? Does it enrich our lives?

I have found people, on Facebook especially, who I haven't seen in years. I love seeing pictures of their families, hearing updates about their lives, careers, and being able to support them from far away. I love seeing my niece and nephew, who live far away and are now teenagers, develop their own opinions, ideals, and stand up for their beliefs. I adore being able to see pictures of my little niece and nephew throughout my day. I find joy in the little tidbits of information others share online.

Conversely, I find that, unregulated, I spend an exorbitant amount of time browsing meaningless matter that doesn't stimulate my mind or enhance my life experience. I'd much rather curl up with a book, talk to a friend (a real live one) on the phone, visit someone I care about, help someone out or take a walk outside.

A little social media is great! It's a fun way to keep in touch with friends, explore the world from our fingertips, and learn about virtually any subject. Left unchecked, we begin to base our self-worth on our social media presence, when really our real world presence is the legacy we'll leave behind.

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