Many people have commented on how social media, specifically facebook, erodes social relationships. When I quit facebook three weeks ago, I learned this same lesson from a slightly different angle. Websites that allow “follows” and “likes” have a way of encouraging a sort of vomiting of information. The personal and the public all get blended together and spewed forth to the anonymized mass of followers, and the result is that we not only lose our sense of what is appropriate to share and what is not, but we also lose touch with the people we are sharing with.

I recently spent a lovely day playing in the snow with some new friends I made. A freak storm shut the city down, so instead of working we all rather dicked around in the shop, or else went outside to throw snow at each other. When I came home I was exploding with happy and I desperately wanted to tell someone. In my facebook days, I would have made a post. I would have then tagged the guys at the shop, making sure to include the one’s I meant as well as the ones who were more peripheral in order to hide the fact that I find some of them rather attractive. My friends who were not present would [like] the post because it would be a happy subject and they would assume it was an indicator that all is well in my life. The friends tagged would [like] the post because it would be impolite not to. And everyone in my network would know I wanted everyone to know my feelings.

However, without an online social presence, I only had the option to send the message directly to the people in question, or else not send it at all. I had one and a half out of three of the e-mail addresses I needed to send personal messages. So I sent a simple update along the lines of “Your shop rocks!” to the ones I had, and then I waited. Hours later I have not heard a response. Without facebook, there are no others observing whether or not that response is sent. It is a private communication between me and another person which holds the additional weight that it was intentionally sent by me to the recipient. This is a very different kind of message than a (semi) public online post.

Being intentional, personal, and direct about our communication with others is taking a gamble when a sure thing is available. By being direct I risk rejection, but I also risk building a stronger and more genuine relationship. On the other hand, a post on a website guarantees me a certain level of validation, but it is highly circumscribed. Many people, myself included, are afraid to build new relationships because each new connection requires exposure and risk. However, a human relationship is only as strong and genuine as the willingness of each participant to expose him or herself. In the end we all want acceptance, but if we try to engineer acceptance, such as through impersonal websites, then the acceptance we achieve is never of our whole selves, but only of the select facet we choose to expose. Relationships built this way will leave you feeling perpetually on guard, a perpetual outsider. Why? Because until you go all in, you’ll never be all in.

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