[Previously on What Would Happen If I Lived My Life Offline?: Sometimes, I chime in; many times I do not. I haven’t yet figured out whether adding my voice to the din matters, and I’m currently trying to figure out if that’s important to me or not.]
Social media allows me to see what my college roommate’s daughter drew at school that day, because they live over two thousand miles away in sunny Arizona, and I miss them. Social media brings me into a fold of more than 4,600 truly talented freelance writers who crackle online with humor, bite, and great ideas. Social media clues me in to who said what when David Bowie died, who has a new book out that’s worth reading, who spotted a moose while hiking the mountains, who’s making waffles. These are things I like knowing.
Social media also alleviates boredom when I’m waiting to get an allergy shot or my daughter is at the dentist. Social media makes me feel connected—or gives the illusion of connection—when I am alone, for it is the real world in real time, right?
Someone once compared Facebook and the rest of the social media gamut to opening up the fridge, perusing for snacks and realizing you weren’t all that hungry to begin with. Giving someone the online thumbs up, tweeting, retweeting, consoling, commenting, and clicking are beginning to feel that way, like refrigerated condiments with an expired shelf life. Online, every day, we are bombarded with daily affirmations and the Greek chorus that follows. I try to be supportive, I click, I read, I weigh in, I engage in this endless, 24/7 conversation with dozens of people simultaneously, wondering what I’m supposed to feel. Most days, it’s an emotional rollercoaster, especially in the Age of the Personal Essay, where just about everyone craves the alleged-catharsis of journaling their heartbreak and getting it out, like some loud belch after a fatty meal. Someone in one of my groups shares such a story and I find myself crying into my coffee, because I have anxiety, I struggle to compartmentalize, and I feel everybody’s everything all the time. Social media democratizes storytelling to the extreme, it is a virtual stage for anyone, with personal dramas constantly rolling out, yet lacking beginnings, middles or ends. Forget cyberbullying, that archaic word from the year 2000, or sexting, which is so 2011. We are way beyond that now, with online threads so nebulous and nuanced it’s like playing that old game of “Telephone” where you end up somewhere completely different from where you started. Online, there’s the content and the behavior, and the two fan each other’s flames. Engagement becomes inflammatory fast.
We’ve got experts advising on digital manners, how to cope with your online friends’ political views, what’s really oversharing and what isn’t, how to stay “authentic” (a word that’s quickly losing value to me) on social media, who to friend and not to friend on Facebook, (probably not your boss or your therapist—just a guess, but I’m no expert). There are people working on books about dying online, and “deathbed selfie” has entered the international lexicon. There are experts researching social media anxiety disorder (I don’t have that…yet…). There are experts explaining how to boost your online confidence. There are experts discussing how to remain relevant in youth-driven social media. In fact, you can become a self-anointed expert—or an influencer, which sounds very sexy—just by having enough people online believe in your expertise. It doesn’t even have to be true, any of it.
Part 3 to follow