My beloved father passed away at age 89. Until shortly before his death, he struggled on a daily basis with his “technology”: cell phone, laptop, and navigating the Internet. Since I’d made the decision to move back to my hometown to care for my father in his last years, his phone calls asking for help with his devices became routine; until the end got closer and all of it was meaningless.
Lately I’ve recalled, with some shame, how impatient I was with my father at times. He’d grasp — but then forget — how to login, do basic searches, or to keep from losing track of his intent online, after opening too many pages at once. My calming mantra: Dad was in his 80’s and he was trying to keep up with the world. Extremely competent in so many other ways, not being tech-savvy infuriated him.
I feel an odd sense of simpatico now, as I barely begin to scratch the surface of the self-expression and conversation options on the Interweb, in 2019, recalling a man for whom ‘Social Media’ meant being able to email his friends around the country and abroad. Reality-checking with myself after my recent foray into Blogging, I hone in on my conflicting feelings. The ability to write, connect and share with people via an electronic forum has me dazzled, a bit giddy, and eager to expand my repertoire. On the other hand, there’s a niggling suspicion in the back of my mind that the Views, Clicks, Likes, Comments, Shares and Follows — the feedback from the Community — is something that’s best not taken too seriously. I can see the Rabbit Hole, and know somehow that tumbling down it (à la Alice) will change my entire sense of time and perspective: the importance and value of other aspects of my life now in competition with this new adventure.
Creating posts for my own blog stems from a sincere desire to connect with others, through common feelings, experiences, and takeaways from just living Life. But, I’m not deluded: millions of people are doing the same thing, at the same time, with similar goals, and with mind-numbing diversity: food, art, literature, music, DIY, photography, fashion, politics, lifestyles, social commentary, science, pets, and film, just to name a few major avenues of exploration. Whether or not the writing is skilled, reflects reality, is total illusion, or is purely for entertainment doesn’t really matter in the flow of these exchanges. I muse: “There can’t possibly be 55,000 people Following (whoever), and 100,000 Following (someone else), and even more Following (fill in the blank).” Adding up the numbers feels like staring up at the sky on the blackest of nights, determined to count all of the stars. And then the questions come creeping into my thoughts. Are the majority of people in the world as active and engaged (not just searching and reading, but responding with mechanical verifications or actual comments) as the numbers would seem to indicate? Only looking at Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram, the Traffic and Insights feel like tracking an obsession: mesmerizing and seductive; addicting, yet harmless. Harmless? Now I’m thinking about my own time spent — not just on my personal blog, but on viewing the sites of others: reading, learning, analyzing value, through the words and images that would captivate me for hours at a time, if I let them.
Even as a beginner in this realm, wandering through a maze that beckons me deeper into the heart of — exactly what, is not fully knowable — I feel the power and immensity of what Social Media is doing, and can do in the world. But it’s a magnificent paradox also, in its ability to mimic social interaction without needing , or being able to, validate the deeper, more profound aspects of relationship. It makes us feel connected to others, but also strangely alienated and even competitive. It offers exposure and learning, but to what depth do we actually go, and how much meaningful information do we retain? I wonder whether we are using Social Media as a beneficial tool, or if it is using us: hoarding our time, and poking our most primal and sensitive areas; igniting our insecurities and distracting us from the pursuit of authenticity. Are we too busy, in our lives, to consider how much influence we allow Views, Clicks, Likes, Comments, Shares and Follows in determining our most basic choices (what to read, watch, wear, think)? These are evolving questions, on an evolving phenomenon, that is — without a doubt — shaping us as social beings, just as surely as technology itself is changing our brains.