Friday Night Rant: Social Media is not killing us

Sometimes there are socially vogue rants that make me want to move to Siberia. Hating on social media is one of them.

I’m just as annoyed as the next guy by the constant dinging of my phone (so I turned off my push notifications), the 19 Facebook notifications that have nothing to do with me, and the rivers of unfiltered troll vomit on Nextdoor.

HOWEVER, I find it more tiresome when people whine about social media, and talk about how stupid it is. How over it they are. Everytime I hear that I think, “it’s okay, old man, we know you’re overwhelmed by what the kids are up to these days.” Or “yes, I know, little girl, you’re cooler than God.”

Use it, don’t use it. I don’t really care. But if you use it, own it.

Part of owning social media is understanding how it works. So lets break it down:

Social media. Not (necessarily) relational media. Not (necessarily) honest media. Not (necessarily) intelligent media. Social media.

It helps me to think of various platforms as virtual versions of specific social gatherings. Just like some people annoy you at weddings, some people annoy you on Twitter. Some people overshare at the bar. Some people overshare on Facebook.

Facebook is a reunion. Not in its explicit purpose, but in its atmosphere. It started out as a high school/college/elementary school reunion. Now its a family reunion. Like all reunions, it hosts the following people:

The people you want to impress because in real life they are cooler than you. So yeah, you only put up your happy, smiley, sexy, adventure pictures. Just like you would only tell your happy, smiley, sexy, adventure stories at your high school reunion.

Facebook also now hosts your grandparents and their friends. And they are proud of you. So they are going to like and comment on everything you post. It’s sweet and darling. Just like at the family reunion when they basically recite your resume to any one who will listen.

Much to everyone’s chagrin, Facebook is also now host to acquaintances and corporations trying to sell you stuff. But if that doesn’t happen at your family/school reunions, consider yourself one of the lucky few to never encounter the reunion fundraising committees or entrepreneurial distant cousins.

Facebook also hosts people who drink heavily before social interactions. Thus, like at your high school AND family reunion, they have no boundaries, overshare, and think they are funnier than they are. They also feel the need to comment on everything. Facebook did not invent boundary issues or narcissism. It really didn’t. Just go to a big high school reunion.

But, there are also fun people who are doing interesting things, passing along great stories, and showing adorable puppy/baby videos. In that way Facebook is even better than a reunion.

So, you can expect about as much happiness and enjoyment from Facebook as you would expect from a reunion. Lots of forebearance with great moments of “awwww” and “that’s pretty cool.” And secretly delighting that your husband is hotter than all your exes.

Instagram is a talent show. It’s a gathering of people with common interests generally trying to impress, inspire, and amuse each other. It’s about admiration, not education.

Travel show has lots of exotic pictures. Mother of the year pageant has lots of tired mommy posts and well-dressed kids (actually those may be two different shows). Fitness show has lots of abs. Arts and crafts show has impossibly cute DIY projects. All the time. How?

When I show up to Instagram, I expect foodies to be posting food pictures, mommies to be posting baby pictures, and photographers to be blowing my mind.

Most of my friends fall into several categories, so they post all kinds of stuff. The point is, on Instagram, people post SNAPSHOTS of life. You don’t go to a garden show to understand the meaning of life. You go to see people’s pretty flowers. You don’t need to know their backstory. That’s not what garden shows are for.

Twitter is the cocktail party at the end of a trade show. Everyone’s all hyped up on the “now” and their using jargon that no one outside their field can understand. There’s good banter. All the newbies are completely overwhelmed.  Funny or profound people get retweeted a million times, just like the constant retelling of the stories told by keynote speakers.

Twitter is by design, for quick, immediate exchanges. And just like the cocktail party with your colleagues, there’s going to be people who don’t get that. People who only tell other people’s jokes. People who regurgitate industry speak until you want to give them a “bespoke experience” they’ll never forget. There’s the obnoxious person who has to get in on every conversation. But mostly, it’s fast, easy, and over before you know it.

Snapchat is for sexting. I appreciate my friends’ attempts to redeem it, but unless you are sexting, snapchat is a little silly. It’s real life equivalent is either flashing, inappropriate workplace flirting, cheesy pickup lines or sexual harassment. Just one girl’s opinion.

Periscope is like testimonial night at a Baptist church. Someone is talking for a long time, and you can shout “Amen!” to egg them on while they talk. But it only lasts 24 hours, then you have to testify again.

There are others, but this is just a blog post, so…make your own analogies. Also, I’d like to say that there are self-promoting jackasses and people who say inappropriate things everywhere. The checker at the grocery story the other day asked me about the absorbency of the brand of feminine products I was purchasing, and then told me about the last period she had before menopause. I’m not kidding.

Now, everyone, all at once: BUT SOCIAL MEDIA IS MISSING PHYSICAL PRESENCE. PEOPLE NEED PRESENCE.

Yeah. It’s social media. Not a hug.

Media is the vehicle for mass communication. The fact that we now have social media does not herald the demise of unmediated social culture. It’s additive. An addition to our social landscape. Just like the news is an addition to our political landscape. The fact that we have social media proves that the human inclination to connect ourselves to the people we like and admire carries over into our time spent on the internet. Which is probably better than porn and gambling.

People get mad when other users aren’t “real.” Am I the only person who doesn’t want people to be “real” on social media? I don’t think I could handle it. Our profiles are heavily curated avatars of our identity. It’s not Instagram’s fault that you think the gorgeous photos are all there is to your friends’ lives. It’s your fault for not understanding how Instagram works. And for not hanging out with your friends enough. And for judging your quality of life by the filtered pictures of a lifestyle blogger.

Like with old media though, people, especially the young, have to learn how to use it properly. What it is (tons and tons of stimuli, exposure, and information), what it’s not (safe, intimate, and well-regulated).  It’s not going to replace eye contact, hugs, man-to-man conversations, and shoulders to cry on. It’s just proving how much we want those things. Which isn’t bad. So relax and go check your Instagram feed.

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