It is one of the central ironies of this age of social media. Never before have we known so much about each other. And never before have we cared so little.
Just think about it. If you are on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, or whatever the latest social media craze is, you know way too much about your friends, chance acquaintances and complete strangers. You know what they did last summer. You know whom they did it with. You have seen the pictures. You know what their kids look like. You know every cute (or inane) thing they ever say. You are forewarned when their birthdays and anniversaries crop up.
And you know what? You don’t care. And you are not alone in this either. Truth be told, nobody cares. We all do the decent thing, RT a few tweets, click the ‘like’ button a few times, and post the occasional comment. But hand on heart, do you really care about this minutiae about the lives of other people? No, I didn’t think so.
There has been some amount of theorising in recent times about how those of us who spend an inordinate amount of time on social networking sites are narcissistic personalities who are constantly looking for approval and validation from other people. Now that’s probably true and there’s nothing wrong with that. There’s just one slight problem with this scenario. For if all these ‘other people’ are also narcissistic so-and-sos who are only interested in garnering approval for themselves, then clearly this social (media) contract is not going to work except in a very limited I-scratch-your-back-you-scratch-mine sort of way.
And let’s be honest here. It clearly isn’t working for most of us. When it comes down to it, none of us is really interested in what the other had for breakfast, lunch or dinner. We don’t care if your car broke down on your way to work. We don’t find your attempts at pithy humour at all funny. We are not going to click on that link and read your blog. We don’t care how much you scored in some silly game. And we definitely don’t want to watch your Facebook movie!
In that case, why on Earth are we wasting our time on these sites, pretending to be engaged when we are, in fact, bored senseless? Is it simply down to a fear of missing out, of being left out of this great social media experiment? Are we getting sucked into this ephemeral world that we don’t really care about merely because everyone else seems to live in it?
But let’s pause for a moment and think. If we don’t even care about this parallel universe, does it make any sense to linger on within its boundaries? And if we are going to stay, doesn’t it make sense to, at the very least, change the rules of engagement?
I, for one, am rapidly coming around to the view that some amount of recalibration is required. One way to go would be to tighten our social circle, expelling all those whom we don’t really give a damn about, and concentrate on that tight group with whom we do have meaningful relationships, those with whom we interact frequently, both in the virtual and the real world.
If you are on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, or whatever the latest social media craze is, you know way too much about your friends, chance acquaintances and complete strangers
That means a certain amount of cleaning up. So, if you can’t be bothered to type ‘Happy B’day’ for a Facebook ‘friend’ even though you have been ‘alerted’ about his or her birthday well in advance, then maybe it is time to ‘unfriend’ them. If just the sight of someone’s handle on your Twitter timeline begins to annoy you because of the gibberish they spout, it might be a good idea to ‘unfollow’ (or, if you are too soft-hearted, hit the ‘mute’ button).
Maybe once we have done that, we can begin to restore a certain balance in our online dealings. We can create an environment that mirrors our real lives, in which we make time for, and pay attention to, those we care about no matter what else is going on in the world. And then maybe, just maybe, social media can begin to become truly social.
From HT Brunch, February 16
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