Communication Today: Or, how social media can trap us in fabricated realities

So as I’m sure has become obvious by now—because of the plethora of Instagram photos popping up on my Facebook page and my Tumblr— I now have an iPhone and have thus joined the 21st century with a vengeance.

I haven’t opened a Twitter account yet but I’m sure it’s only a matter of time. I am finding that to be on the cutting edge of, well, anything these days, you need to have a command of all the newest avenues of communication in order to “speak the same language” as everyone else.

It really is a lot of fun. I love having my friends available at the flick of a touch screen. I have friends across the US and the world and love them dearly so being able to drop them a quick line, send them a photo of a meal/hike/my face that I think they would get a kick out of is loads of fun. I can stay current and up to date with the little adventures of their lives and vice versa.

Another benefit is the way international and domestic business can be conducted. In the company I work for, three of us live in different states, and the other three live on the other side of the pond– the UK. But we talk all the time. Skype, Podio (an awesome online workplace), texting, phone calls, and email for business– and of course Instagram and Facebook, too. I feel so close to my five colleagues and yet the closest one resides in Illinois. We have made it a collective goal to over-communicate to ensure that we always feel like we’re hearing each other and being heard. Though we occupy different corners of the globe, we’re crazy connected. I don’t feel the distance. We work incredibly well together and are madly productive.

But there is a dark side to social media which I am coming to terms with.

Social media is not an accurate depiction of reality (obviously). But…

• Have you ever gone on Facebook, scrolled through the Feed to look at your friends photos and wondered why everyone’s life looks so much more interesting than yours? Or have you ever said to yourself: “Only 2 notifications? C’mon. And they were to ‘events’ that I don’t even care about. I feel so lame. No one loves me.”

• Have you ever gone on Instagram and seen that someone who you like posting pictures from parties and then suddenly, every person who’s standing a little too close to your amour looks like competition? “Who is F— is that?!”

• Have you ever (on the flip side of ego) gone on Instagram or Facebook or your blog (ahem!) and felt abnormally elated when you see that soooo many people “liked” something you posted/said/linked/wrote? It’s ok to feel appreciated but is this something that should make me so….weirdly happy?

Ok, maybe that’s extreme. But it happens. I’m a little ashamed to admit that I can plead guilty to having done all of the previously stated examples– more than once. I won’t say how much. I can’t count that high.

I consider myself a very rational, clear-headed, balanced person, but this social media thing can be tricky. After getting into a little spat with a friend today though text messaging, I knew I needed to think about this more deeply. I didn’t like what I felt like I was becoming: someone who was sometimes living more viscerally in a frankly made-up social media web than in the land of breathing, thinking people.

The conflict with my friend was soon resolved. The solution to this seeming collision of competing misunderstandings lay in this freakishly simple solution: I simply gave my friend a call and the problem was resolved in a matter of minutes.

WUT. HAPPENED. All that over…nothing?

Why was such a frustrating conversation over text– where we both felt misunderstood– redeemed after a very little bit of good ole’ person-to-person communication? And what gets lost when we don’t do that?

It was sobering. What was becoming more real to me?

I had to pause, and realize that great fact again– social media is not real life.

I should NOT take what I see on anyone’s Facebook or whatever as a legitimate view of their life. Even mine. I so intentionally make my FB page look a certain way and share very specific information. Am I a care-free, happy, successful, “interesting”, “cute”, wise individual as my Facebook page portrays? Sometimes. Do I share all the parts about all the things that make me feel vulnerable, afraid, small, disempowered, ugly, a failure, dumb, totally naive, and inexperienced? No. Do I share the major challenges that are going on in my life? The things that make me get out of bed with sometimes not a little trepidation in the morning?

No. That’s not sexy. And it’s also not your business.

So then, I just look fantastic and invincible on Facebook, when in reality I may be in the fetal position on my bathroom floor, crying about something. (It’s happened, ok?) Is what you see in my social media my “real” life? No. It’s a very manicured version of my life. It’s a remix, an edit, a “based on true events” account of my life.

And when fear takes over instead of real communication, imagined scenarios take place in the stew of your limited perceptions and suddenly you are living out the results of an untrue story (i.e. thinking people standing too close to your beau are most likely trying to get with them and also to spite you specifically…or course). And then you go and treat your significant other or crush or friend that way– and they’re wondering why you’re so uptight. Hmm.

It’s tempting to just chuck social media out if it causes so much damn trouble. I know I have felt that way– like this afternoon. But does it instead just take education, experience, wisdom, and responsibility to transform this tool of social media into something we can use and love?

I know for myself that I resolved, with this friend of mine, to communicate more and assume less. SOOO MUCH can be incorrectly inferred from a posted picture or a totally out of context comment. I speak from experience. But I am learning that if I just stop to slow down, listen, genuinely seek to understand AND DISCOUNT THE OTHER SOCIAL MEDIA STUFF AS NOT THAT FRICKIN RELIABLE, then I am on my way to more effective, accurate, and satisfying communication. I saw that played out perfectly in my own life today. I couldn’t not share this revelation. I feel enlightened. Probably because I was failing at this so miserably.

Maybe I’m still behind the times, but I feel as if we don’t learn to get back to the basics of what it means to communicate (to build relationships–which takes time, care, and patience–, and to LISTEN, and to seek first to understand and then be understood) then we are doing ourselves and each other a HUGE disservice. And if we bring bad habits to our social media interactions, then we will habitually be building poorer relationships with each other. Extreme perhaps. But I think that my micro example with my friend today is a prime example. Just multiply that instance by a billion. Ew. That’s not what we, as a global community, want to be doing. We have enough peace issues as it is. We really need to get along better and it starts with ourselves and our own lives– as does really everything.

Moral of my story?

To remember we’re all multifaceted. We’re not our Instagram, our FB page, our Tumblr. We’re so much more and we’re much more complex than our newsfeed. We need to stay grounded in the beauty and often vulnerability of who we all are in order to regard ourselves and our neighbors more compassionately. We all deserve better.

So, by all means, love all the social media outlets. I sure do! I’m just getting smarter about it.

With great technology, comes great responsibility.


5 thoughts on “Communication Today: Or, how social media can trap us in fabricated realities

  1. Amen!! Only I still kind-a can’t get used to even Facebook! What’s a baby boomer to do?? I know – go out to lunch and a long walk with a friend…..and see their face as we talk! Works for me! 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s