Is Social Media, Actually, Like, Social?

August 2, 2018


Society. Social gathering. Social drinking. Social Media? Is there a difference between in-the-flesh sociality and digital sociality?

Yes. I remember a line from “The Social Network”, where one of the twins is talking about Facebook’s growth and says, “If I had crack, I couldn’t GIVE it away that fast.” I’ve been all over this world, and I’ve seen people glued to their screens. Ever have a crying baby? Put a touch screen in front of it, and the soothing blue glow will reflect off their little baby faces, as they manipulate icons and watch the dancing images on the cell-phone. You walk into any crowded room, and you will see multiple heads, necks bent down at precarious angles, staring at the next important thing. Chiropractors, this is your golden age!

From a business standpoint, this is great. Heavens knows my thoughts aren’t going to make a dent in the raging wall of touch-screened water that is overtaking all of us. Buy Samsung. Buy Apple. Buy Google. They are here for the long haul. And even if you didn’t get in on the IPO, assuming the world exists in another 50 years, invest now and you’ll still be able to buy your island, my friend. Invest in technology.

Social investment is a different thing, however. The new generation doesn’t know there’s any other way to do things. Thats not their fault. They don’t remember when there were no answering machines on your telephone. Can you remember those days?

Lets revisit. You’d call. It would ring 10 times. You would hang up. You would then go about your day. That was for personal business. For business business, there were secretaries. You’d call a business line. They would be “unavailable”, you’d leave a message, and the person would respond when they had a chance, mentally prepped and ready for it based on your message, and then business would be conducted. I would submit, that we were more independent back then. We had to make decisions and follow through without text-access to our boss in a meeting. “Do you want white table cloths or black?” “Times New Roman or Helvetica?” Thousands of mundane questions eliminate our need to reason and discriminate- as we abdicate our reasonable discrimination to the authority on the other end of the text.

But wait- according to our Social Media profiles, we are ALL bosses. I’ve seen those adventurous/model/body-building/rock-climbing/diving/travel pages. It seems the only person living an ordinary life is me. For awhile, I even bought into it- taking all sorts of adventurous, credit-card funded selfies. But you get all these adventurous people together in a room, and they insist on taking selfies and staring at their screens. Why? Because, there is a visual narcotic emanating from the screen. I can’t prove it yet, but I have a feeling there is a certain light-wave frequency that hits your eyes like an opiod hits your blood-stream.

I’m at the point of the blog where the people who are either unplugged or functionally straddling the technology fence are agreeing with me. Let me talk directly to those who are jacked in, and have no idea there is any other way to handle things.

First of all, I like you just the way you are, person. And I have no desire to forcibly change you. Let me invite you to walk outside in the rain. Or walk outside in the sunshine. And let the rain soak you or the sun warm you. Don’t try to capture the moment. Because we can’t hold on to any moments. I’ve tried. I’ve purposely not taken certain pictures, because I wanted to remember them in my mind. I’ve forgotten many of those moments. I’ve tried taking pictures, and now I have too many to look at. The only way I’ve found of remembering those moments I feel like I’ve forgotten, is by interacting with real people. The experiences come back to me, and I share them. I have a picture of a snorkeling trip off of Zanzibar on my Facebook page. You know what? I’ve NEVER shared that story impromptu at a real-people social gathering. Because it feels static. And redundant. Because the moment is about who you are, not the validation you get from likes on a page, or the internal validation you get as you remember a good moment from an Insta-photo. The moment is right now. (I think thats the definition of “moment,” but I don’t have web-access here so I don’t have a dictionary handy…. ) How do you feel? How are you going to continue to feel? And more importantly, what are you going to do?

I have worked with countless, unhappy people in my life. I’m not a therapist, but I’ve found myself in the role of asking people very personal questions, getting personal answers, and giving counsel. When things are going badly for people, I have yet to give them the advice, “Well, if you want to feel better, you should go into a room, alone, and spend 3 hours on Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/Pinterest/Whatever-new-site…. After that, you’ll feel centered, invigorated, and more like yourself.”

I work in rural Alaska, and so invariably, I ask people, “when is the last time you went to camp? When was the last time you took a walk? Or went fishing, or to pick berries?” Its a re-centering based on values. For me, I play baseball. That's where I know what’s going on around me, and it brings me back to my entire childhood of culture and connectedness. I played every day of the week except Sundays growing up. Its what I do when I want to feel grounded.

Now, I’m not saying that everyone is broken, thus needing fixing, and the answer to fixing is unplugging. Or baseball. But, without self-control and self-restraint, a personal communication device can become a buffer between us and really living.

After a 3rd place finish at a tournament where we lost the first 2, we then won 6 in a row in kind of a softball twilight zone- my team and I got to the point where we didn’t know which field we were supposed to play on, who we were playing, sweaty socks and muddy uniforms forgotten- just a bunch of grown up boys playing a game. We lost the semi-final game, not even knowing we were one win away from the championship. Purely living in the moment. We’d been through the war together. And yet, at dinner afterward, when we sat down at this delicious sushi-grill, where you pick your ingredients and this master chef tosses his grill-tongs around in front of you- my teammates were glued to their phones, checking in.

Did they actually experience what had happened? Or was their phone getting in the way of them really experiencing life and sharing the experiences with compadres en la lucha? How do we comfortably straddle the modern world of connectedness with the tried-and-true traditional values of face-to-face time? (which is different from “Facetime.”) What is the appropriate level of jacked-in?

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