When I was in grade school (which in reality, really wasn’t all that long ago) there was no such thing as Facebook or Twitter or Instagram or one of the hundred other means by which we now socially communicate with one another. If you were lucky enough to have a cellphone, you could text your friends, but then messaging was usually charged per text so you were limited on how much you could send. In the end, we were left to the timeless communication devices of calling the landline, talking to them at school, or writing them a fancily folded note. I imagine tweens of today would balk at the idea of any of these options. What a horrendous idea to take the time to hand write a note and then have the courage to give it to your crush in person!
Oh, how society today likes to hide behind their computer screens! Gone are the days where you needed multiple dates, note writing, and phone conversations to “get to know” someone. Now you can meet them once, friend them on Facebook, stalk their photos, twitter feed, work history, friends, exes, and family and essentially learn everything you need in order to make an “informed” decision on their character and worthiness of being your friend or potential significant other.
This makes me sad though—to realize that society no longer values face-to-face interactions or learning about other people through the unfiltered lens of real life. Kids are growing up now, not trying to convince colleges that they’re well rounded and acceptance worthy, but rather, building an online reputation they find suitable to their social needs. From this, it can be concluded that we no longer believe people are entirely genuine in their online presence. That they are trying to convince us they are something they are not—they’re happier, healthier, more wealthy, smarter, more romantically sought after than they are in reality—to the point that we are no longer able to distinguish between the realities and exaggerations that people put out. Instead, we become fascinated by people’s lives. On Twitter you can follow anyone unless they have a locked account and Facebook allows for the most distant connections to be made if you accept a friend request. Once you have access to their information and status updates, an entirely new world is opened up as you can indulge in a life that is not your own.
I’ll be honest, I do this too. I don’t think I’ve met anyone who isn’t on a social media website that doesn’t. Whenever I consider deleting my Facebook because I’ve become so annoyed by the drama or the stupid, overused memes or fickle people, I nearly have a panic attack wondering “How will I get people to watch my videos?” and then, more embarrassingly, “How will I know all the gossip of my high school and college friends? How will I get in touch with them?” Then I remember I rarely contact them to begin with so why would I need to be so worried about it. I bet I could find their phone number somewhere. Or an address to write them a (snail mail) letter if I was really desperate. But then how would I be able to creep on my distant cousin by marriage who has a really positive attitude and awesome kids? Or my best friend from elementary school and her fiancé and life post-college? It’s selfish. It’s vain. It’s utterly ridiculous when I think about how much of my life that I should be LIVING is wasted staring at a screen wondering how people I barely know anymore are living their own lives. Lives which through the censored realm of social media may be rose-colored and much cheerier than reality.
I would suggest that the problem with social media is that through it we use and abuse people. They become actors in a grand play taking place over the interwebs in which we all participate. We are puppet masters in an odd way. Obviously, we can’t directly affect what people do, but our opinions and judgments affect how people chose to portray themselves to us. For that reason, we pull the strings of our brethren while also being controlled by them in a never-ending game of “who has the better life.” We are all guilty of this despicable crime, but also innocent to the point that we don’t know we are even doing it. We simply try to continue living in this highly connected, technologically advanced world that makes us feel more distant from our peers than ever.
Our “friends” and “followers” are sometimes more competition than inspiration and more enemy than friend. It is an unfortunate fact that no one likes to admit. Instead, we make an effort to try to call out “Fakebooking” and try to be more real with our posts and images, but it is a difficult road to travel and not everyone in your news feed will be participating. Maybe divorcing oneself from social media is the best means to get control of your life back, but for people like me whose business is run through the internet and spread through social media, I don’t have much choice. So instead, I have to try to determine the fine line between fantasy and reality and cut the strings from the puppet master. And more than anything, I have to make sure I don’t become a puppet master myself.