"Let us not be ashamed to speak what we shame not to think."
-Michel de Montaigne

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

You're So Vain, I Bet You Think This Status Update is About You

Hello. My name is Christeene, and I'm a Facebook junkie.

After an entire work day of staring at a computer, I came home the other night and fired up my laptop for an extended YouTube/Facebook/piddly waste of time extravaganza. I wanted to unwind from my long day of exhaustive computer usage with...more computer usage.

[Enter toddler, stage left]

My daughter ran in the living room, circling the coffee table in her brand new plastic play heels and hot pink tutu. "Mama, can I sit with you?" she asked. Before I could respond she plunked down next to me on the couch, sucking her middle fingers while I looked at a friend's family vacation photos. She asked, "Who's that, Mama?" when it hit me: I was looking at pictures of other people's children while my own sat next to me, ignored.

I snapped the laptop shut, and proceeded to make a jerk of myself for her entertainment for the next two hours. But I have to admit, and here is the ugly truth: some small part of me hesitated momentarily, as though this were an actual choice that required thought or sacrifice.

Recently my brother told me he was writing a research paper about social networking for his Communications class. "What about it?" I asked, to which he summarized, "Basically about how social networking sites gimp us as humans." Well said, Plato, well said. Gimps, indeed. I couldn't agree more.

But what is it about social networking sites that "gimps" us as flesh and blood people, communicators?

Some people argue that social networking sites are the ultimate tools of the narcissist. Where else can you update your friends on the completely useless minutiae of your day? Where else can you carelessly broadcast every idiotic or base thought that crosses your mind? I am not exempt from this. It's just an observation. You know the old adage, "God gave us two ears and one mouth so we could listen twice as much as we speak?" Well, He also gave us ten fingers to type, and those bad boys can construct atom bombs in 140 characters or less. Just ask chief-foot-in-mouth tweeters John Mayer and Kanye.

Now we can snipe and ponder and proselytize via status update, the Reader's Digest version of conversation. Thank God there was no Facebook when I was in high school lest every embarassing moment, ill-conceived blurb, or compromising picture haunt me ad infinitum.

So why even bother with these things?

I think there's something fundamentally human about the need for connection. Even the biggest misanthrope wants connection, or at the very least a sense of being "understood" by someone outside of him/herself. Social networking sites give people just that, or, at least they give us a possibility of connection. In many cases, Facebook has allowed me to reunite with family members and old school friends I might have never have spoken to again after life took us on our separate paths. Indeed, I even know two couples (former sweethearts) who reunited over Facebook and were consequently married. But for every reunion and joyous reconnection, there are countless stories of Facebook or Myspace as the impetus for many empty and false relationships, bullying, strained friendships, and in some cases, divorce.

It's not just social networking sites, it's the whole way we communicate as a generation. Text messaging has made me all ancy about phone calls, even with people I know well. Admittedly, I will silence a call and reply with a sufficiently witty text message later if at all possible. Despite the false appearance of the instant update, we've in essence taken the spontaneity out of communication and relationships in an effort to put our best faces forward; and in many instances end up looking and behaving even more foolishly, and feeling more empty, I think, in the long run.

The problem lies when this virtual life replaces or supercedes the actual one; when writers/teenagers/businesses begin to believe the things that are said to or about them online; when our time and energy is directed toward posting family pictures depicting a happy life instead of living one out. Of course I don't think social networking is 'The Devil,' or the next great social ill. It is what you make of it. Most of us, unfortunately, make too much of it.

I propose a detox.

I think over the Thanksgiving holiday, I will NOT allow myself to access Facebook, MySpace (yes, I still have one), or Twitter. I want to take this opportunity to be totally present for my family, whatever that entails, as we sit at my mom's house and salivate over the turkey. If I want to communicate with someone else not physically present, I'll call them (holy panic attack, Batman).

Now if you'll excuse me, before I detox, I need to make sure this blog post is linked to all three of my social networking sites...

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