Once upon a time, friends got together over coffee. They didn’t know that you cooked spaghetti the night before at 6:08 p.m., or that three days ago you had a fabulous (heart heart heart) time with three other friends who didn’t invite the one you are sitting with to their girl’s night out. They didn’t necessarily know your inner secrets, or maybe they did, but they were tailored to your actual friendship. And they certainly hadn’t seen that embarrassing picture someone tagged you in from high school that at the time seemed pretty cool, along with your hairstyle, nor did they watch your nasty divorce play out over the internet for all to see. When you were proud of your kids you told them, just them, when you made extra money or bought a fancier house you rejoiced with your family and close friends or kept it to yourself, when you went on vacation people may or may not have known, when you had a baby you sent out real live birth announcements, and when you were angry you told those closest to you or confronted the actual person you had a problem with. You mainly shared your political and religious convictions with those you naturally hung out with, and you really had no idea how many people had cute dogs or grumpy cats.
This was life before social media, most especially Facebook.
Twitter is great and quick, and the only people who really get into trouble with it are celebrities with foot-in-mouth syndrome whom people actually follow, and LinkedIn is a great business network that is helpful to know “which promotion so-and-so recently got” or “which new job description so-and-so has” and will badger you until you accept that darned request. I am probably badgering you right now without even knowing it. *This is your 27th reminder to accept Shalimamma’s request!!! Come on!!!* Google +… well, it’s a good idea, and I’m on it. But Google knows everything anyway and is most likely looking at you right now through your webcam. So I tend to just let them spy on me and send me ads about subjects that I’ve only ever talked about without writing about them…. whatever. Pinterest is amazing, and the only reason I am currently avoiding it is because of potential addiction problems with it. So, in this article, I am mainly referring to Facebook, because that seems to be where most of us keep in touch with distant, or not so distant family members and friends, and where most of us find humor, support, and enjoyment, as well as make huge taboos and get ourselves into big trouble with either real life friends, or fake Facebook “friends” who only clicked “friend” to boost their numbers or to stalk.
So let’s begin with the blessing…
For people like me, I literally live out in the distant prairie on a ranch, and a trip into town involves hours of time and tons of gas, so when we travel, we combine a million errands just to conserve. Add in 8 chillens and getting together with friends, even if we were next door neighbors, gets more and more difficult to navigate everyone’s schedules. So it has been a huge blessing to log in to Facebook and say hi from the comfort of our couches while both parties have children screaming in the background. Texting is like this, too. The other person gets this nice focused friendship message and doesn’t hear the kids “playing” LOUDLY or the sheep baa-ing or the dog barking or the phone ringing or the 7 appliances running all at once. It’s great. We can also post those happy photos on Facebook, and even a few messy birthday cake ones, but we put out there what we want to put out there. Hopefully. The tagging thing can get a little dicey. But I digress. I have learned things about people I never knew, like their passions, what gives them joy, who they love, and what they dislike or want to change about our world. I have also found support from unlikely sources when I was feeling lonely and all the kids were in bed and I just needed a cyber hug. And, I have also found welcome distraction when my own life got too intense and I just needed to see a light-hearted joke or a new baby or some good news or a reminder to trust in God. I’ve gotten in touch with family members, past friends, and even made new really wonderful friends just through Facebook alone… people I would never have otherwise run into. I have realized through social networking that I am NOT alone in my love for life and in my convictions, and that there are indeed many of us who can provide each other with support and encouragement in these trying times where there are many stresses in our society and around the world. These are the reasons I have enjoyed staying connected on social media, and why places like Facebook have been a blessing.
But it hasn’t all been a bed of roses.
In fact, sometimes it has literally felt like a curse. I’ve had stalkers from other countries; I’ve had people post things that did NOT need to get into my mind; I’ve had where healthy friendships became strained when the other person didn’t share my views and started to become upset, and vice versa; I’ve gotten into needless time-consuming debates with people I don’t even know because I was drawn in; I’ve seen where envy has been encouraged as people blast in everyone’s face about their projected perfect relationship or financial situation; I’ve seen where people harmlessly post about their friendships and fun events, but of course someone is always left out of that little tag and yes, they see it; I’ve seen where people have felt more powerful behind that computer screen and said things they wouldn’t dare say to someone’s face… I have been guilty of this, too! I have seen where people post the good, the bad, and the ugly about their marriages to an extreme (with one too many details), and honestly it is none of our business that you had an amaaaaaaazing night last night, or that you hate your ex-wife’s guts; I’ve seen where Facebook can be difficult for those who are hungering for real flesh and blood relationships and can become bitter when a friend or family member only communicates through cyber space. I’ve seen where gradually over time, friends can hold in resentments behind that computer screen that you are blissfully unaware of as you post away about your opinions, hobbies, relationships, and life activities. I myself have been annoyed when people only post Pollyanna-like sentiments, or only post the mild weather forecast, or only have something angry to say, or only use Facebook as a business generator when I’d really rather know who the heck the person is. And then there’s the hijacking of accounts and pictures and your personal info… Let’s just say that more than once I have been tempted to delete the whole darned account.
So why stay? And what’s the art… or IS there an art to “doing” social media right?
I believe there is… but I will start by saying I have made MANY mistakes on social media, as well as learned many valuable lessons to keep Facebook more enjoyable. Granted, social media, for me, will never replace good ole’ fashioned flesh and blood relationships where you really are in each other’s presence. But it is certainly a useful tool, and can indeed be fulfilling and more a blessing than a curse. I am still working through all of this, and probably will continue to (since Facebook changes their ‘rules’ and privacy settings frequently), but here are some thoughts about the “art,” at least from MY perspective…
First, there are certain people with certain temperaments who don’t find social media very fulfilling. If you are a more serious temperament who values depth and a handful of very close friends, you will be constantly frustrated with the surface-ness of Facebook. You will see people you love posting a picture of their latest pillow arrangement, or you will see opinions that invoke deep feelings for you of disgust, and social media may be a source of deep torture for you. You will find yourself blocking and unblocking and struggling and wondering why that person doesn’t actually call you, and your mind will easily create whole worlds of perceived reality that don’t even necessarily exist. I say, stick to your personal relationships where you find joy. I know many people (some of my closest friends and family members) who are not even on social media, and they are perfectly happy. There is no rule that you have to be accessible by social media. If it steals your peace, delete it, because it isn’t worth it… use that good ole’ fashioned phone or mail a letter, and your friends (who are more used to social media especially) will be thrilled and honored. Who wouldn’t like a piece of mail or a visit instead of a Private Facebook Message? I’d take this real act of friendship any day over social media…. Just be careful not to expect your social-media-active friends to be as diligent as you are at phone calls or letters. Social media may be their only way to communicate when they have a farm, 8 kids, are pregnant, and they are running three businesses. (In other words, please cut slack to Shalimamma! Lol! 😉 )
Second, when you are experiencing personal problems, struggles, or are going through depression, Facebook can get you into trouble because of the lenses you are seeing through during that time period. Why do I put this 2nd point? Because this is where I have messed up the most. A post that I would normally “like” and put “awesome!” in the comment box during happy times might invoke negative feelings for me when I am struggling. For instance, if we are struggling with paying bills, your post about how happy you are to be a millionaire complete with pictures of your new huge front-yard water fountain and remodeled marble floors may send me into deeper depression, much as I want to be happy for you. If I am going though a challenging time in my marriage that we are working on, your harmless post about those roses and diamonds and how your wife is the most beautiful and amazing best friend in the world might make me start to think, hey, why doesn’t MY hubby treat me like that? If I am DYING to get a teeny break so that I can go into the sock section at Wal-Mart and you post your pictures of your cruise to the Bahamas with a daiquiri in hand and are smiling with your perfectly whitened teeth, gorgeous happy spouse by your side, and your two tanned children splashing in the pool, I may need to head for that last drop of old wine I had left and last chunk of Halloween chocolate in an attempt to escape my reality that I cannot even get away to Wal-Mart. The point here? Not that you shouldn’t post these things! But rather, that if you are not in the right frame of mind to be logging into social media, it is better to stay off than to see positive things as negative just because of your own life circumstance. You run the risk of feeling unwarranted resentment and envy. Log off, and wait until you feel better. And if someone is TOO obnoxious about how perfect they are, there’s always that defriend button, or better, the “unsubscribe” button where you keep them as a friend but don’t need to look at their constant projected perfection.
On that last note, here is something to keep in mind: if someone only posts happy happy joy joy, just know the truth that there is no such thing on this earth. In Heaven, yes. Here, no… everyone has struggles. It’s just that some people choose not to post about them, and that is perfectly fair. And when someone goes way over the top, just know that they are compensating for probably a worse life than you are having! (My hubby and I call it the big pick-up truck syndrome… If the truck is TOO big and loud, I point out that my hubby proudly drives a small Honda Civic. No need to compensate for ego or anything else, if you get my drift. 😉 )
OK, and third, know the rules, or perceived rules, of social media. 1.) We should all know by now not to put too much personal info on there. There are too many perverts and dishonest people in the world. Be careful. 2.) Another rule, some would say, is not to talk about religion and politics. I absolutely agree that these items are not necessarily good for business if you are trying to build one… however, I kind of disagree with that sentiment unless you have something more interesting to post than those two subjects. Honestly? When you post that it will be 72 degrees today or that you’re taking your puppy in for a nail trim, and you never say anything else of value, I get kind of, well, bored. Nothing wrong with that! But you won’t get a ton of followers… and if you’re not looking to build your friends list, that’s fine. 3.) Always posting about business and nothing else? (i.e. Check out my new listing at 1111 Facebook Lane!)… people get bored with that and feel like you are friending them only for building up clients. It feels insincere if that’s all you post. Now, mentioning what you do here and there IS interesting, so long as your page stays personal. 4.) Always always always negative and about the same same same subject? We scroll on… we kind of know what you are going to say. If this is your personal page, you may lose interest or people may stop reading those same articles. Please note, however, that if you have a specific mission on Facebook, like a movement or ministry that is specific and your page name reflects it, that is awesome!!! People will subscribe because they want to. On your personal page…. think about forming a mission specific mission page and putting some more fun and personal items on your own.
In conclusion? I think the key to a successful social media experience is BALANCE. Mix it up. Keep it interesting. Express yourself! Don’t get TOO predictable by posting the same boring thing. Keep it alive and different from the weather channel. Throw in some humor, some seriousness regarding what you believe in, some light-hearted photos of simple things going on in your life (your kids swimming, etc), have awareness of what is going on in the world. If a major tragedy like the Boston bombing just happened and you post that your kitten just had her ear mites removed, you may come across as cold, impersonal, or out of it, even if you aren’t. Sure, you don’t have to go off on a rampage with tons of details about the tragedy. But acknowledging lives lost shows that you aren’t completely apathetic. Show that you are relational and throw a like or two on other friends’ pages. If you never respond to your friends, but only post YOUR life, people do start to notice and realize that (with current FB rules) that you haven’t subscribed to their news feed. I tend to respond most to those who are a two-way street. And last of all, don’t be afraid to block or defriend or unsubscribe if someone is stealing your joy just by their existence on any social media. That does NOT mean you aren’t REAL friends in REAL life. It just means you aren’t playing the Facebook game. Like I mentioned before, some of my dearest and closest friends are not subscribed to social media, and our friendships don’t depend on that. It is only cyber space after all.
Yes, social media is an excellent tool…. but let’s not forget our good ole’ fashioned real relationships. I am trying to get better at spending real time with friends. And I am also trying to only log in when my life doesn’t sound like a country song.
Happy posting! And happy having tea with our friends when possible (even better 😉 )