A decade of on-again, off-again social network use has one millennial thinking about the big picture.
I never really hit it off with social media. To me, networks like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram all feel like one long, awkward first date, and I’ve always had one foot out the door. I’ve tried to get to know them, in fact, I probably know them better than most, having spun-up countless social media developer apps and accounts in my professional life - I’ve combed over Facebook’s social scrape data, wrestled with Twitter’s APIs, and configured enough YouTube profiles that I could probably do it in my sleep. So I’ve tried, but we’ve never clicked.
My anxiety around social media is easy to explain. I think its communication lacks subtlety, and I find my lack of control over news feeds and what others are showing me to be frustrating.
The discomfort I feel around social media may actually be healthy, but when I go out of my way to avoid it (Facebook and Twitter notifications get turned off on my devices), I end up missing out on get-togethers, inside jokes, and the goings-on of my social circles, and that is a problem. When my friends are texting me to go on social media, to check my messages, that’s a problem I don’t want to have.
Social Media Never Forgets
I’ve never really been personally committed to any social network in any serious way. To me, social media seemed more like the digital equivalent of a house party, except here, there was no virtual wall for me to lean against, no back door for me to sneak out.
I’ve been on Facebook since December 2006, on Twitter since April 2009. But it’s been uneven from the start. Unanswered wall posts from friends wondering why I wasn’t responding are pretty standard fare. Even at the beginning, I was feeling the pressure of my personal life being posted online.
Here’s my biggest problem with social media — it never forgets. I would like to believe I’ve grown a lot since I first created my accounts but those embarrassing posts I made eight years ago? Still there. All my past likes, photos, friends, relationships, it’s all there too.
And I’m afraid of it.
I know what you’re thinking…
Just delete the posts and unfriend some people, what’s the big deal?
If only it were that easy.
This gets into a larger issue of privacy, and it’s where my secondary concerns with social media come from. It’s not difficult today to lock down your Facebook profile, and for the services that depend on less privacy, make sure your content in appropriate. I think asking yourself a simple question such as “will I regret this?” before posting should suffice. But personally, I’ve always been cautious with the delete button, and even more worried about the unfollow or the unfriend.
I’m a nice guy (or so I like to think), I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.
Should I Leave Social Media Behind?
Something I’ve pondered all too often.
Even if I personally question the benefits of having social media in my life, I use it every day for my professional career. It would be nearly impossible for me to separate myself from social media without a professional re-evaluation.
That point shines a light on the idea that it’s very hard to deny the real-world consequences of our digital friendships. I’ve seen knock-down, drag-out family feuds on Facebook, the full force of the Twitter mobs, and countless accounts devoted to seemingly endless complaints.
I believe we’re far more likely to be nasty to each other online than in person. I will refer you to John Gabriel’s Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory.
What’s the Solution?
There’s no easy answer here, but simply put: a line in the sand.
‘Virtual’ social interaction is never going to hold clout to me as in-person — how can it? I still believe people should be held accountable for what they post online, but profiles, posts and conversations on these digital platforms lack the nuances, subtleties and simple understanding that even talking on the phone can replace.
Blasphemy, I know. But in order to ditch the insecurity that social media drives around how my digital self is perceived by others I think I need to start taking a step back and see these platforms for what they are — code running on a server.
If you want to chat? You know my number.