Years ago, when my father had a dial-up connection that allowed you to view your emails and spend the occasional moments in chat rooms, computers and the Internet had a few basic functions that made people want to use them. Word processing, calculating payrolls and tax returns and the odd game of snake or worms, was what we spent our PC time on. Many feared this new age, the age of technology, because just like the industrial age, it had the potential to replace humans. But it didn’t. Not on a large scale, anyway. If anything, it created new opportunities, new disciplines of largely un-treaded territory. Back in those days there were no such things as digital cameras (remember film?) or mp3 players (remember Walkman?) and there certainly were no such things as social media, apart from chat rooms where one could meet with friends and strangers and exchange ideas or play iSketch.
In the nineties all of this, however, changed. Connections became faster, computers became smarter, and the consumer expected bigger, better and more all the time. The Internet became more accessible – it was no longer simply a way to send and receive messages, it was now also a way to advertise products, display and obtain information, travel virtually and play games with people from any country and any walk of life. The Internet turned from being a little corner bookshop, to being a warehouse with the largest stock in the world.
Soon digital photography and music became a reality, and suddenly computers became virtual photo albums and music collections. Wikipedia was born and so was Google. Information became available to anyone and everyone. People shared what they liked, disliked, wanted or needed and there was an inventive atmosphere the world over that had everyone excited and in the spirit for creation. A creative explosion ensued.
And then came social media.
Social media is the dictionary description for words like Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Instagram and Google Plus. Textbook social media allows people to display every detail of their life in high definition, vivid colour, to anyone who cares to know more about them. I hardly need to explain this, because if you’re reading this, chances are you saw it by way of a post on some form of social media, but social media is the virtual edition of who a person is, or aspires to be. I aspire to be a published novelist, my interests lie with books and language, and anyone who has ever seen my posts on Facebook will attest to it that the virtual edition of me loves books and language related media. Every day someone who wants to know more about me might, by way of following my interaction via social media, learn that I am female, married, childless, a pet owner, interested in books and movies and music and wildlife and that I have a fairly average sense of humour. In fact, for those who look more closely, they will learn about my specific preferences, my likes and dislikes, my opinions on politics, society and the future, my current religious views or relationship status or physical form and even where I am and what I am doing at any moment of the day.
But do they know me as a person? They will feel like they do, because they will know a lot about me. But is that really the same as knowing me? Do they know that I don’t eat peas because I hate how they roll around on my plate? Do they know that I broke my nose in the second grade and have had multiple corrective operations? Do they know that I often disagree with what priests say during their Sunday sermons?
They can’t know those things, unless I chose to share them, and just as you, the reader, are forced to take these revelations at face value, they will be basing their knowledge of me on what they saw me post on social media. I am who I say I am, and therefore it is the truth.
Here’s the flaw: I do like the way peas roll around on a plate. I have never broken a bone in my body and I have never had corrective surgery. I do not disagree with priests during Sunday sermon, because I rarely, if ever, go to church.
What I just stated, may or may not be the truth. What I stated before, also may or may not be the truth. If I tell you both things are irrevocably true, then you will automatically assume I am a liar. If I tell you both statements are completely false, you will do the same. However, if I tell you that the reason I don’t eat peas is because I am allergic to them, you will feel yourself forced to believe me, because why would I make that up?
Social media has become such a part of our day that many of us start and/or finish our day by checking our preferred site. Who said what to whom and why? But consider what you used to do with that time before the rise of social media. Did you read one more book per week? Perhaps you had time for one extra TV show, or an hour a day extra for outdoor activities? I find myself wandering in and out of Facebook and Twitter more and more often, just to see how everyone else is doing, but more often than not I am disappointed that nothing has changed since an hour earlier (or if I’m really bored, three minutes earlier). I have already seen all the posts, liked the ones I like, shared the ones I agree with, commented on the ones I disagree with and posted a selfie or five of me in an elevator or in my car, eating ice cream or just holding the new smart phone that will allow me to access social media even more frequently. When there’s nothing new on the social media and I’m not in the mood for working, I feel cheated, like there’s nothing else left to do on the Internet. I gleam all the interesting news articles or blog posts, photographs, funny thoughts, political discussions, personal interactions, invitations or discussions and even which music to listen to next, from social media. I haven’t been forced to go anywhere and look for anything unless I am doing specific research, so when there is nothing happening on the social media that I follow, my computer might as well be broken.
Yes, I did that. I said that I’m growing slightly bored with social media. I will probably post this blog entry on multiple social media sites and I will sit around waiting for someone to comment, to gauge whether people read the blog and how they are reacting to it and whether I am the only one who has reached the point when social media is no longer enough. What I’m wondering though, is what comes next, because one of the things social media has successfully achieved is to stifle the creative explosion that came before it. Now creativity is considered to be captured by “I haz a moniez, now what to do wif it” pictures of various animals and corny poetry about what it means to be a mother, father, brother, sister, aunt, uncle, son, daughter, grandma, grandpa, human, goth, emo, pet, teacher, etc. We no longer meet each other in person, and when we do, our conversations start with “I saw on Facebook…”. We no longer learn anything other than weird facts about animals posted by awareness groups which look good on our profiles. We no longer go out and smell the roses, we go out, take a picture of the roses and brag about them on social media. We don’t buy flowers and cards for birthdays, we send virtual greetings. We don’t call our friends, we poke them. We don’t know people, but we know everything about them. We live in a stalker’s universe, where the stalker and the stalked become best friends because they share an interest.
I’m not saying that when I post this I will quit social media. I’m not even saying my usage will go down. What I am saying is: it’s time for something new. Something smart, and fun and creative. Something that will force us to live in the world outside the digital one without constantly imagining how special moments or unique experiences will look on our social media pages. Something that will make us humble again. Something that we’ll do because we actually like it, not because it will look good as a social media post. Something we can be remembered for, by real people.
Oh! I managed to write this entire post without once checking my news feed.
I probably got this picture from someone’s news feed on Facebook, so I don’t actually know its source.