There used to be an unwritten rule of etiquette that it was never a good idea to openly discuss religion or politics. Those topics, because of their highly sensitive and personal nature, were better reserved for close-circle conversation.
That line of thinking has certainly gone the way of the dinosaur, and all the more so in this age of social media.
It used to be that to know what a person thought about any given topic, you had to…well, ya know…actually know the person. Or minimally, have a conversation with them. If you were going to disagree or challenge them, you had to do it live and in person.
Unless you were a public figure with some sort of platform, we didn’t just all know each other’s thoughts, beliefs, opinions and political affiliation without having an actual knowledge of the person that held them.
With every advancement in communication, which by and large is a useful, helpful progression in our world, we each, as a by-product, gain a bigger audience. It’s no longer just a politician, a teacher, or a pastor that has a platform…everyone with an account and a password just gained a stage.
I’ve been giving quite a lot of consideration to this stage we all now occupy with our online presence. It’s especially thought provoking during election seasons like we are currently in. It seems like political activity stirs everyone’s fire about ALL THE THINGS, and I know (because, of course, I read people’s posts on social media!) that I’m not the only one who is beginning to feel uncomfortable with the amount of information we are learning about people and their “stances”.
And it’s not JUST political or religious views. People share waaaay TMI about other things too. Personal things. The kind of things that aren’t necessarily a secret, but used to be reserved for one-on-one conversation over a cup of coffee, or minimally a phone call (Remember those? The kind where we used to talk into our devices instead of just pressing buttons?)
Now, before you write me off as stodgy and outdated, hear me out. I am a HUGE fan of social media. Frankly, Facebook is how I communicate with most of the people in my life. And my cell phone? Well, let’s just say there’s no stone throwing coming from me! I text my kids if they are on the second floor and I’m on the first and too tired (lazy?) to yell for them!
I am, by all means, preaching to myself as much as anyone. It’s a social media hole I see myself so easily being sucked into, but I’m hoping that I, that we, aren’t too far along to realize how to come back and bring some grounding balance to our virtual and our real lives.
Here’s my biggest concern with all this. I think we are bypassing KNOWING people and settling for knowing ABOUT people. We don’t see people’s fear, hurt, love or compassion when we only process the things we know about them that we learn from statuses, tweets and soundbites.
This, to me, hits the nail on the head. When I am putting myself out there on social media, I am giving every acquaintance I have, every Facebook “friend”, every Twitter follower, and countless other people even completely unknown to me access to my thoughts and opinions, as well as opportunity to feed back into them, comparable to that which I normally give my friends and family or those that I share conversation with.
Increasingly, this really bothers me. I started a while ago to be a bit more selective with my Facebook posts, and created specific lists of people that I want to share things with. Even more importantly I try (though not always successfully, unfortunately!) to avoid “hot topic” debates or just randomly touting my beliefs…especially the ones that I am afraid people might misunderstand, and with people that don’t actually know me in real life, or know me well enough to know where I am coming from when I say things. (Again, I’m a work in progress on this.)
So, I have general lists and specific lists. I have lists titled ‘Acquaintances’, ‘Friends’, ‘Close Friends’ and ‘Bests’, and I share accordingly. And frankly, I still haven’t tightened things up quite as much as I should. But it’s a step that I’ve taken to restrict ‘access’ to myself…out of respect for both myself and others.
The thing is, I’m not a secretive person. Transparency and “realness” are high values of mine. It’s not that I don’t want people to know the “real” me…it’s more than I actually want to be known for real. I don’t want to be just a profile picture with an opinion. I want to be known for more than the “side” I’m on, and I want my beliefs to be more thoughtful than the latest meme.
And while I appreciate input into my life, the reality is, there is a limit to the amount and type of feedback I want, and who I want it from. I truly desire perspective and advice, but I want it coming from those that I trust. I want it coming the people in my life that I have real, committed, caring relationships with. I don’t want those voices, that I value and are rooted in the security of knowing that they know and love me to be drowned out by the throng of opinions voiced by anyone who happens to agree or disagree with a status or a “share”. I can so easily get caught up in the vicious cycle of seeking “approval” that nastily takes over my thoughts and stirs up worry and anxiety over what others think of me.
And honestly, I want to think better of others, too. I don’t want to be placing negative assumptions about people’s entire characters based on a “like” or a comment, or something else that is so surface. It can be hard to keep an open and positive opinion of people that you seemingly disagree with on a lot of things if that is the ONLY interaction you have. It seems that we have forgotten that people are more than just a list of bullet-point opinions or arguments. People form their beliefs, not just based on a teaching, debate or understanding of a topic. Rather their deepest held values are formed by their experiences….their hurts, their triumphs, the relationships they’ve had, the circumstances they’ve lived. Sometimes I don’t connect with a person’s thoughts on a matter until I understand their story. Then, I am able to hear not just WHAT they are saying, but have a better understanding of WHY they are saying it. While I may not share their viewpoint, I can certainly at least see their perspective.
Social media often isn’t conducive to this, in part because we cannot see a face or hear a voice. So much is communicated not just in our words, but in our expressions, our tones and our body language. I can read about a friend’s struggle and breeze past it all much easier when it’s just words on a screen than if they are sitting in front of me with tears in their eyes as they convey the exact same thing.
I hope that as the world continues to move at a mind-dizzying pace of technology that we learn to adjust and adapt, and that part of that adaptation is returning to the art of personal relationship. The kind that includes actual human contact, and not just words and personas behind the glow of a screen; conversation complete with eye contact.
I’d like to reiterate that in all this, I’m certainly not trying to convey judgement or tell anyone how to interact on social media. I’m just trying to navigate all of this myself, and process (ironically, via this form of social media…yes, the irony is not lost on me) my concerns about the truth that we are all still people with real feelings, and we owe it to each other not to make snap judgments about people without ever giving them enough respect to have any real, live interaction.
So, please tell me… Do you struggle with the whole social media aspect of our world? How do you find balance, as well as work at keeping interactions positive? Maybe we can learn from each other and help keep the forces of our increasingly virtual reality more positive in nature!