Getting a (real) life

I consider myself to be a fairly well-read sort of fellow. Not only books but of the periodicals of our day. I believe it is important for someone in my field to make an effort to stay informed of the ideas of our Age, and those which reside around the next bend.

Among these ideas of our Age is the phenomenon of “social networking” in its present incarnation, as well as its constantly evolving and changing form.

Of course, social networking is hardly a new concept. As long as there has been human society, there has been some means and method of communication.

In my own brief life, I can recall staying in touch with grade-school friends though handwritten notes passed hurriedly in the hallways. Later it was a vast list of email addresses I maintained in college to keep in touch. Then it was my own personal website where I first began to share my half-baked musings with a global audience. Now it is self-aggrandizement via laconic quips on my Facebook page.

So much for Evolution.

But seriously…  in just the span of a few decades I can trace how social networking has become increasingly disconnected from real life interpersonal relations.

In my weekly readings of newspapers and magazines, I have noticed a certain alarm is being raised about the cultural effects that have started to be reported as a result of this disconnect. One article reports that using social media outlets like Facebook, Twitter, and even the quickly-dying MySpace is starting to cause a sort of depression, especially amongst the young.

Citing a recent psychological study the article asserted that this type of communication causes a disconnect between what people perceive in the lives of their peers compared to what they experience in their own lives.

The author states that, in showcasing the most witty, joyful, bullet-pointed versions of people’s lives, and inviting constant comparisons (in which we tend to see ourselves as the losers) Facebook appears to exploit an “Achilles Heel” of human nature.

In short: people get depressed because they see other people having a good time, according to their Facebook page.

This may seem a bit brusque but if you are feeling inadequate because you do not feel your life matches up to the illusions presented online…  well, I think you have far deeper issues to sort out.

Yes, “social media” can chronicle cute kids and warm moments, but that is never the whole, or even most, of the story of anyone’s life. Tearful falls and tantrums are rarely recorded, nor are long stretches of sheer mind-blowing boredom.

In any and all social networking outlets, the individual controls the content. I am the one who oversees what is posted. I decide which photo best represents my own self-image. I can restrict any contrary perspective to that which I find most favorable. As a consequence, only a certain aspect of truth and reality is reflected.

Networking is a helpful tool, but it is only a trail of breadcrumbs that leads toward relationships. Relationships, true personal relationships, must be maintained through open and honest dialogue, combined with a shared value of intimacy and vulnerability.

Of the nine hundred or so Facebook “friends” of mine, there are varying degrees of dialogue and intimacy. Some are old friends or schoolmates of mine, who simply wish to hold fast to some thin tendril of what once was. Others are familiars I have acquired through shared proximity, interest, or occupation.

But the best of these are those with whom I am able to maintain a wide candor, those with whom I am able to be truly vulnerable, in all my idiosyncrasies and messiness. For these, social networking is simply another means to continue to cultivate what is there in actuality.

Internet outposts like Twitter and Facebook, these things are not what is real. The real bonds of friendship and intimacy with real people you share in the real world, that is what is real.

All the rest is just tin cans on a string.

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