Social media has changed the way we interact with one another. We go there, to Facebook or Twitter, or other sites, to be more social. We want to meet new people. We want an easy way to keep up with the day-to-day events in the lives of family and friends. We want to catch up with others that we’ve lost contact with.
Social media helps. A few minutes on Facebook each day, and I feel like I’ve got a good idea of what is going with my family. It has enabled me to broaden my awareness beyond my closest relatives. I can keep in touch with cousins, ex in-laws, and distant relatives. I am reminded of birthdays and anniversaries. I see how the children are growing, along with their Halloween costumes, report cards, and visits with Santa. I get an overview of who is doing what, from getting a driver’s license, to starting a new job, to retiring.
As for friends, Facebook has opened the floodgates! Without a shadow of doubt, I have way more friends on social media than I have ever had in real life! And they are all there together: the ones I went to grade school or high school with; those that I know through my job, or some other previous job; others that I met through another friend, or member of my family; and the few who were my friends before social media made it so easy.
I’m not complaining. It has been wonderful to re-connect with people who I knew fifty years ago, and to realize that our lives have often run along parallel lines, and to see that we – after all these years – can relate. Social media is a convenient way to stay in touch. I am aware of vacation trips and diets, illnesses and deaths that otherwise I might not know about.
Still, there are drawbacks. You can speak out when writing, without seeing the reaction of those people you are speaking to. I know that lack of immediate, visual response has changed us. As I write this, I can only assume that readers are intent on every single word I type. If I were speaking to you in person, I might notice your attention wavering, and have the good sense to quit yammering on.
Social media, where we never see the reaction our words evoke, has made people, in general, more confrontational, argumentative, and disrespectful. Meaner. It has also led to an awful lot of over-sharing. It’s not our fault. We cannot see the eye-roll brought on by the one-hundredth picture of our child, pet, or restaurant meal. We can’t observe the averted glance that would let us know, in face-to-face conversation, that our political rant was falling on deaf ears. We can’t immediately see that we have shamed, embarrassed, or hurt someone’s feelings. With that in mind, I hold back.
I have strong political opinions, and work toward specific ends. I vote; I write my representatives; I make phone calls. Sometimes, I protest. But on social media, I refrain. I argue for a point now and then; I sometimes post an opinion piece written by someone who can speak to my beliefs much better than I can; I do a lot of fact-checking. That’s all.
I am often tempted to show off a particularly good-looking meal, or speak about the foul mood I woke up in. Usually, I hold back. Or, if it’s really something good enough – or awful enough – to warrant an image or a rant, I write a blog rather than just a Facebook post. That way, I can yammer on incessantly.
Today is my youngest daughter’s birthday. I thought about posting a photo of Kate and me together, on Facebook, in honor of her special day. I held back. Kate is beautiful now, as she always has been. But the true purpose of my actions would be to show myself when I was younger and prettier. The fact is, though there are photos of the two of us that show me with long hair, or dark hair, or fewer wrinkles, I was unfortunately never any better looking than I am now.
The only photo of myself – recent or not – that is actually worth posting is the one my sisters and I call “the bathing suit picture.” It was taken a few years ago, on a “sister’s vacation” in Florida. I had convinced a one-armed man (another story, for another time) to snap a photo of us – six sisters – in our bathing suits, sitting around the edge of the pool.
It was just a stroke of luck that, in lining ourselves up in age order, I ended up in the perfect position for a good picture. All of my body fat was hidden by the arms of the sisters on either side! I look absolutely svelte! Not so, my other sisters, in less fortunate positions. Brenda and Amy, at either end, look absolutely huge!
Because it is such a flattering photo of me, I have posted it often. First, to chronicle my vacation for all of my Facebook “family.” Then, on the first, second and third anniversary of that vacation. Or whenever Florida comes up in conversation. Or bathing suits. My sisters don’t like it, and question my motives each time. I can’t think of how I could possibly tie in that Florida vacation photo to my daughter’s birthday. So, once again, I hold back.