Online/Offline: This is Your Friendship on Social Media

Bluntly, I have the birthday kinda-blues. There’s nothing like a birthday to make you rethink relationships and other aspects of life. I’ve subconsciously nixed birthday celebrations and now I can’t stop thinking about stuff.

It’s a good/bad thing, the birthday reflections. I like the goals and plans I’ve set of late. I’m optimistic of where things are going. But I’m not particularly wowed by the relationships in my life right now. Let’s just say it’s been a long year, and I’ve had a lot of time to think.

A month ago, there was a big social media suicide, when Trey Pennington, with 100,000+ followers, killed himself during a messy divorce, and it gave me a lot of pause for thought.*

When famous people commit suicide, the thinking usually is that it’s caused by pressures, no outlet for expression, mental illness, substance abuse, right?

When someone “popular” on social media killed himself, the reaction was, “But he was so popular! And likeable! He had an outlet!”

It’s funny, you know, how we kid ourselves about how much this online shit matters. It’s why I laugh at bloggers who aren’t professional and who obsess about traffic, or Twitter people who care about their numbers, and so forth.

There’s this delusion that the more followers you have, the more of a voice you have, or that you can be so much more yourself.

The opposite is actually true.

Be careful of what you wish for. When people start actually reading your stuff, merely venting gets complicated.

I feel I’m less able to express myself on this blog now. I feel like I have to “watch” what I say. Do I, though? Feels like it. Maybe it’s me. Maybe I WANT to express myself less.

It’s a constant battle to remind myself that there’s never been a better time to be myself — because if you don’t like me for being myself, then who the fuck are you to me? Not much, and rightly so. This is me.

Then the irony is, I’m not being myself anyhow. This shit’s edited. Twitter is soundbites. Facebook is selective. Google is me just tryin’.

That’s not ME. That’s a part of me I’m willing to share. But the more of me I’ve shared, the less I feel there is — sometimes. I’m not faking shit, but I’m not releasing the floodgates of truth either.

Welcome to the digital paradox.

You can be “yourself” to a bigger audience than ever before, but how true is it?

You can’t say a fucking thing anymore without realizing a) someone actually heard it and b) half of them are gonna misunderstand it. I don’t care what your grasp on articulation and clarity is, you cannot control how your message is received.

And that’s, again, another paradox. We want to be heard — we just don’t want to be nagged about it. But if you don’t comment or speak to our expressions, then we feel ignored and invisible.

It’s Catch-22, social media style.

We’re reaching that point where the simplest solution is to say nothing.

Say nothing. Somehow I don’t think that would’ve been a good Cameron Crowe movie. “Say Nothing.”

Ahh. Sigh.

So, this year I’m left with an approaching birthday in which I’m really questioning the authenticity of a lot of relationships in my life. Now and then we have those times in our lives that really test our measure of friends. I’m realizing I’ve had that year. What it’s taught me is, well, a lot and I’ve been silent on too much.

And, the irony is, I have “oodles” of people in my life, supposedly. And yet. It’s been a long year.

The simple truth is, emails and texts aren’t enough. Words aren’t enough. Actions are what counts.

And therein lies the trouble of being in a digital society. Having a sentiment “liked” on Facebook doesn’t measure up much, in the scheme of things. A shout-out on Twitter means shit.

I’m pretty sure there’ll be a new cliche in a decade or two: “No one ever said “I wish I could’ve had more Twitter followers” on their deathbed.”

So, having been of this billowing state of mind for a few weeks, I’ve been really taking stock of my life and trying to solve the things that are important to me.

Writing, it’s important to me. I’ve avoided this topic but it’s been eating at me, so it’s best to put it out there, because otherwise I avoid writing in its entirety. Well, that’s not been helpful.

Other things that are important? Cycling, freedom, little things. I’ve been working on whittling my domestic life, getting my back on track, starting a new work sched, and slowly building an exercise routine. I even have plans for meeting people through non-social media events, ‘cos I’m so tired “networking”.

So, life balance. Real people. Honest moments. Personal accomplishments. Those are priorities.

But I wonder how many people feel like I do — more stifled on speech than ever before? To overshare or not to overshare, that is the question. Someone gimme a Magic 8-Ball, I need me some prognosticatin’. I’m not sure what the answer is.

It’s not an earth-shattering revelation that there’s a lack of tangibility in online relationships. It’s just disappointing when one realizes that, even locally, it’s more in platitudes than in practice. It feels like my words or thoughts go out there into space but do little for me. It’s a vacuum, creatively. Or is it?

But, when communicating starts feeling like work, then what can you expect? Staying “on top” of online relationships feels as much a chore as checking my voicemail or email. And where do you draw the lines? Who’s “online” and who’s not?

In the Facebook age, it’s an interesting dilemma. One I’m sure will grow murkier and more complicated in the future. We’re an ADD digital society who thinks and comments more than we act, and it shows.

Whether it’s throwing a “twibbon” on one’s avatar to show political or protesting sympathies, or just doing online commentary, there’s a lot less meaning behind our online lives than the social media marketers want you to think. Being one of a number online kinda means shit, and it’s a good fact to wake up to.

Getting followers and likes ain’t gonna translate much in your soul, and if it does, you might be doing things wrong.

After a year of injuries and other things that, for a while, made social media a more attractive way of engaging for me, it’s safe to say it ain’t so attractive now.

I don’t have a conclusion. Online/offline socializing is a Pandora’s Box that’s officially opened, and staying that way. There’ll be no simple solutions. Yet.

*No, I’m not suicidal. It’s all good. I might need a stiff drink, though.

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