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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This entry was posted in Being me, Facebook, internet, Society, Twitter and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Trackbacks are closed, but you can post a comment.

10 Comments

  1. Posted September 27, 2011 at 10:37 am | Permalink

    thank you for this. It’s what I have always wanted to articulate, but couldn’t.

  2. Posted September 27, 2011 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    I’ve only been online a year and a half, but have run the gamut of similar feelings in that time. I love connecting with people, but at times it has felt like one more chore on an endless list.

    I reached out to a few online “friends” and connected on the phone. I went to my first conference in June and met a few more there. It now seems to be those people who engage me in real discussions and reach out on those days when I need a boost.

    I’m still puzzled by the fact that I haven’t connected with many of the local social media community. It feels much more like a clique, providing plenty of high school flashbacks, but hard to break into.

    I don’t have the answer, but I wanted you to know that your writing reached out and spoke to me. Your humour reached out, causing snorts, chuckles and full on belly laughs. Your language at its off-colour best, reached out and startled me, leaving me to question my reactions and judgments.

    We both live in Vancouver, we may never meet and that’s ok. I’m still here reading.

  3. Posted September 27, 2011 at 11:08 am | Permalink

    There’s a limit to which online interactions can replace real ones–I’ve learned that pretty early in my online life.

    I try not to put too much stock on Twitter and other online media. Yeah, it’s awesome to be heard, but it doesn’t give me friends or make me happier. I’ve met friends through it, yeah, but you need to be willing to get out of the online stuff and dare meet people in person.

    And yeah, “networking” is useful but it doesn’t really build real relationships except in rare cases. It’s like Twitter, offline.

    Thanks for this great post. Your perspective is appreciated.

    • Posted September 27, 2011 at 9:24 pm | Permalink

      I think some of the events are not conducive to really connecting, and that happens more and more, and it’s not really getting acquainted, it’s kinda all just surfacing.

      There are some events that are more fun, or informal, and it can be a great place to connect. It really depends.

      I’ve met some great people, for sure, so that has to be said, but it’s the depth or permanence of the connections that I question. Only time will tell.

      That said, one of my best friends I met through an event off the computer, but we never engaged there, and we’ve been friends 19 years now.

      So, who knows, right?

      But thank you. :)

  4. Anthony
    Posted September 27, 2011 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

    Whoa. This was reading like a “farewell Twitter” post.… uh, no conclusion here either, other than to observe that those typically end poorly with the person magically reappearing some weeks or months later with considerably less credibility than they one might have had.

    • Posted September 27, 2011 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

      Pfft, no, not leaving Twitter, or Facebook, or anything. Just observing how I feel.

      Not even swearing off events.

      I agree, deleting accounts is stupid. Most people do return.

      I know social media is going nowhere, & it involves us learning to have the boundaries somewhere in our lives.

      I think my boundaries blurred too much, for too long.

      Twitter / etc is an outlet for me, but when I start worrying about those I might offend, etc, it becomes an irrelevant outlet. I need to say I just don’t care, these are my thoughts, or I’m just another inauthentic ass online.

      I think one can say “You know what? This isn’t IMPORTANT to be, but continuing to be a part of it somehow does give me value… Although I’m not sure that value is what I’d believed it was.”

      Does everyone who follows me/reads me plan to be there for me when j really need friends? No, likely not.

      This is just me saying that in a “yeah, I’m confused where I stand, but here are some thoughts” kind of way.

      But not a goodbye in any stretch of the imagination.

  5. Posted September 28, 2011 at 7:34 am | Permalink

    fwiw, like Sandi above, your writing reaches me. Not every post, obviously, but from time to time your thinking shifts my thinking. And loads of times your posts encourage me. What kind of “relationship” does that mean we have? I don’t know, but surely there’s something worthwhile there when one human and shift the thinking of another human.

  6. Posted September 28, 2011 at 10:47 am | Permalink

    This post struck a chord with me, too. Like you, I’ve been dealing with lumbago and sciatica for much of the year. I’ve also been questioning the value of social media. You and I are not the same, to be sure, but since you asked for answers, the one I found is this: Writing advice is Life advice. “Murder your darlings?” I loved Tumblr and ice cream. Upon close inspection, I could see they weren’t doing anything good for me. They got axed. “Revise, revise, revise?” Sounds like what you’re doing right now. Looking forward to reading about how the new “draft” of your life shapes up. Keep going; you are being heard.

  7. AnnMarie
    Posted September 28, 2011 at 11:28 am | Permalink

    Fantastic post!

    I don’t know that humans were ever meant to handle the number of “relationships” we have now and so we don’t know how to do it, or, really thinking about it, why. Most of social media seems incredibly far from genuine communication, and I believe we’re being culturally and psychologically altered by our use of it. Personally don’t like where it’s going, so I’m changing the way I participate, and that’s pretty much the only thing any of us can do.

  8. Posted September 28, 2011 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    I’ve only been on Twitter and blogging since last November but I certainly have noticed cycles of “internet fatigue”. I’ve known since the start that the person I am online is only a version of me. I don’t like my online personality more than my actual self, but I don’t dislike my social networking self either. It allows me to be more outgoing than I actually am. This mask helps me feel brave when I go to events and try to meet new people.

    Some people (like Anabelle above, woot) I have actually been able to make a real connection with based on our mutual interests that I’ve been able to carry over into offline life. Without social media, it wouldn’t have happened, but I think if we kept it to “social media” only conversation, it wouldn’t have survived.

    Ultimately, the few followers I do connect with will end up meaning much more than the multitude (of let’s face it, mostly bots) that simply add to my klout.

    In a nutshell: I look at my numbers and followers and blog hits when I feel like I have something to prove to other people.

    When I want to prove something to myself and remind myself why I participate in social media and keep a blog, I look at the new people I enjoy knowing, and at the few but meaningful messages I’ve received regarding something I’ve written. Which mean the world to me.

    I’m out on the net now and that can’t be undone, but what I can change are any “numbers-chasing” habits and focus on how this participation can be personally fulfilling. Which is a bit of a drag on me sometimes, but there you go.

    Great post.

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