September 27, 2010
It's funny, this social media business. It preaches about getting us all "more connected" and I think there is this illusion that this connection is real. I mean, I sit on gchat all day, watching the red and green orbs of my friends blink on and off as they come and go. I can talk to my friends and family anytime, all day. I can "skype" with one of my best friends in Cambodia, talking with her like we are kicking back in the same room. Social media pervades our lives and our verbs. I google things. I facebook people. I skype with friends. It is surely an ubiquitous force.
And yet, I think I feel less connected and more alone than I have ever felt in my entire life.
Certainly, this feeling could indeed be perpetuated by a number of other factors. But, I find it interesting that social media tools do not really ease the burden of loneliness for me. In typing words to a friend and receiving their response, I find myself missing something: tone. Tone and that organic, human-y sense of feeling the presence of the person. Even if you can't be with that person, say you receive a handwritten letter from them - seeing the curvature of their hand and the bit of their morning tea spilled on the page - you see traces of them and somehow it seems more real.
The lack of tone really gets us in trouble. People are slighted even when the sender of the message did not intend a slight. I feel as though I have to fill my typed messages with exclamation points so as to assure the other person of my elevated mood. The exclamation point never had it so good.
I remember a time when work and life felt simple and less complicated. I wasn't tied to my computer and iPhone as I admit to being now. The age of multitasking. The age of interruption and not feeling truly accomplished because I have too many tabs in my browser. This "hyper connectivity" raises the expectation for gratification around connectedness. Twitter and Facebook tells us we are more connected than ever, so we want that feeling. Oh, we want it so badly. And, at least for me, it doesn't ever quite arrives.
I recently read this New Yorker article written by that intellectual zealot Malcolm Gladwell. His thesis seems to be along the same lines as mine - Twitter and Facebook are not making us deeper (he more pointedly says that we mistake certain types of activism . In fact, they are making us weaker. Things are easier and faster without any of the attributed meaning. Social media tools are making us more superficial. During the Iranian riots, people (including the US government) touted Twitter as the mouthpiece of revolution. But Gladwell argues that journalists merely scanned through tweets tagged in English but um, don't you think that most Iranians would tweet in Farsi? Baleh (Yes).
In fact, I think social media is the worst thing for journalism. Gladwell cites journalists who retrieved "facts" for their stories on the Iranian protests via tweets. And mostly English language tweets. Um. Fact checking anyone? A recent article linked to CNN, the author merely reads blog posts from Dooce and constructs an entire narrative against mothers blogging about their children. Um, did the author even think to pick up the phone and get Heather Hamilton's actual opinion or perspectives from other mommy bloggers? No, because the "information" was right there. But was it really there? Not in a form that was immediately ready for repurpose in an article published by a trusted news source.
I could go on and on about the strangeness of social media. I'm sure I am not alone with this ups and downs feeling. And it's not all bad. It's enabled more people to flex their creative muscle (i.e. blogging) and stay in touch. My concern is the quality of that staying in touch. Despite my hesitation, I do feel that through this blog and through reading other blogs, I have encountered some true kindred spirits. But part of me feels something missing - I have never having actually met any of these wonderful people. Perhaps someday. Then maybe, it will all feel more real to me and I won't feeling this small gap in the space of our connection.
And for now, I live quietly at what feels like shore of this vast, bizarre, pretty world of all things social.