Recently, Margie Clayman posted this on her Facebook wall:
“I find myself struggling once again with my relationship with social media. I love social media and am grateful for it – Social Media, like in the movie Avatar, gave me a chance to go out and meet people without having to worry about being judged by my external self. Social Media introduced me to many of you and helped me keep in touch with the rest of you. I could never shrug that off.
But I find myself struggling with what it’s all about. I could exchange 20 comments with a person in a day and have no idea how their day was. I have talked to a person nearly every day for a year and had no idea they were emotionally distraught, going through a separation, and unemployed.
Is it important for us to post stuff here so that people can “like” or comment and feel like they’ve done their engaging with us for the day? To me, it doesn’t seem like the best way to spend our time. I would rather talk to you once a week but make it a real conversation. I care about people. I want to know how you’re doing. I want to know what is good and what is tough about where you are right now. I want to know what you’re hoping to accomplish and how I can help. These things do not fit into tweets or facebook comments.
I enjoy sharing stuff and seeing your reactions and I enjoy reacting to what you post, but it is starting to seem like a make-believe world. As more and more friends, I discover, are going through difficult times, I realize my ability to be a good friend dissipates as I spend more time on the surface with people. I am not really sure how to address this restlessness I feel with the online world.
Is anyone else on this wavelength?”
There were 127 replies to this question.
My response was succinct.
“To answer your question Margie: Yes.”
It’s a strange world, this online place.
I watch with interest some of the banter that goes on. The very clever surface-stuff that bounces like a tennis ball, pinging from one person to the other. Fun, frivolous and entertaining.
I also see that when someone shares something of deeper meaning, the circle draws tighter. People often don’t know how to respond to anguish, pain or naked honesty online. It’s much easier to glide on the surface. Much tougher to dive deep.
And what do we really want people to know about us?
The yin and yang of “social” is a double-edged sword. How much is enough? How much is too much?
It’s like being in a room with hundreds of people but feeling quite alone sometimes.
It’s like wondering if everyone is on their best behaviour, wearing a mask that hides what’s really going on.
I liken it to the Amanda Marshall song, “don’t assume everything on the surface is what you see…everybody’s got a story that could break your heart.”
We connect, but that doesn’t mean we’re connected.
True connection happens when we speak, in person, online or off. Whether that be in a hangout, on Skype, on the phone or at the corner coffee shop, that’s when, in Marshall’s words, we “lift the veil and let your true self breathe.”
When we comment online with words like “look on the bright side” or “things will get better” when someone bares their soul, it’s like we make them evaporate and disappear. Trite words cannot possibly help. They diminish the other’s place of pain. Maybe that’s why we’re reluctant to bare all online.
I think that when we feel restless online, it’s a signal that we need to connect in person. It’s the difference between a cocktail party and a pyjama party.
At the cocktail party we’re all dolled up, putting best face forward and skimming the surface in our conversations and contacts. We might encounter someone who’s sharing a bit deeper, but we often excuse ourselves and move on, uncomfortable in that setting to do more than offer cursory words of support.
But at the PJ party, we let our hair down, talk turkey, share, laugh, cry let our true self breathe.
It’s not either-or: online or off.
It’s recognizing that we can’t really “know” someone until we’ve spent some face time with them. After all, friendship is a very sacred thing that runs like deep water. Things might look calm on the surface, but deep below there exists another layer that no surface banter can see. In the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson: “A friend is a person with whom I may be sincere. Before him I may think aloud.”
Are you restless?