“Like Me,” Please!

OK, I admit it…I’m pretty addicted to my iPhone. Every beep, ring, and vibration causes me to grab the handy device (that is rarely more than a few feet from my side) and excitedly read the alert on the screen. I’m just too curious to let it go without at least a glance. It could be an important message about that job I applied for that will forever impact my future or it might be a notice that the price of Lay’s potato chips has been lowered at the local Harris Teeter store. Regardless, I like being connected and up-to-date on everything that’s going on in my virtual world.

ImageWhile I enjoy keeping up with family and close friends online, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I’m a social media junkie. In fact, I find the practice of pouring over Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter on a daily basis a complete waste of time. Life is just too busy to allow the luxury of watching pet videos, reading the pros and cons of Common Core, or the latest diet program endorsed by Oprah. Additionally, my life looks so messy and sad comparatively when I view all the fun vacation photos, spousal anniversary shout-outs, and adorable TBT shots that my “friends” post. I overanalyze every photo I share, wondering if it could possibly embarrass my image-conscious teenagers and impair their social standing for the duration of middle school. I don’t tweet because I can’t imagine coming up with anything witty that people would actually want to read. Pinterest doesn’t make much sense to me and it makes me chuckle when people start “following” me based on my one single pin from several years ago.

It’s amazing how much the nature of friendship has changed in our current day Facebook-obsessed world. When I scroll through my list of Facebook “friends,” I’m often puzzled by who exactly they are. Certainly, there are the friends, neighbors, colleagues, and family members who are close to me and share in my real, face-to-face life. Then there are the friends whose names sound foreign to me and I wonder if we have ever met. Others are vaguely familiar from high school, college or perhaps my hometown. In some cases, I have to ask myself, “were we ever really friends to begin with?” I remember once responding to a friend request with an embarrassing, “do I know you?” Upon learning her maiden name and making out the familiar face of my childhood friend now aged some 25 years, I accepted the request. Funny, I think she may have “unfriended” me since then, as I don’t recall ever seeing any of her posts.

I’m always amazed at the degree of disclosure that occurs on Facebook. Did you really mean to tell the whole world how much you loathe your husband or dream about quitting your job? I’m not sure I feel that comfortable reading your intimate thoughts when I’m having trouble remembering how I even know you. Could it be the sense of voyeurism that social media provides that is part of its appeal? You tune in each day to find out if your cousin’s toddler made it through the night without wetting the bed or if your college roommate changed her relationship status after the big break up. No wonder soap operas are a thing of the past…there’s too much drama on social media!

I often feel that our human need for validation motivates so many of the posts on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. I’d like to say that I’m immune to it, but that would be a lie. We all know the drill…you position your loved ones for a “selfie,” choose the shot in which you look your best, post that photo for the world to see, and then anxiously wait for the “likes” and “comments” to roll in. Why do we seek the approval of others? Does it really matter if they like your “selfie”, particularly if you post the same pose every day as you head off to work or your morning run? And what does it say about your online friends who have nothing better to do with their time than to click the thumbs up icon every time you post something? Does that gesture make you any closer as friends? I sometimes wonder if it wouldn’t be more meaningful to pick up the phone and engage in conversation or meet for coffee to catch up on lost time.

As I ponder these virtual relationships, I’m reminded of the intercultural interactions I have had with friends and colleagues around the world. When crossing cultures, it takes a lot more effort and engagement to reach a deeper understanding of differences. The nature of friendship is just one of those concepts that is not easily comprehended from a superficial, “above the water” view. (If you’ll remember my post about the Iceberg Conception of Culture, there are many more issues that make up the nearly 90% of culture that lies outside of our awareness, underneath the surface of the water.) I remember being chastised in Luxembourg for calling a close acquaintance “friend.” Surprisingly, she felt that such a term was too intimate to describe our relationship and furthermore complained that “Americans are so superficial, immediately labeling as ‘friend” everyone they meet.” Contrast that view with the overly friendly Venezuela that I came to know and love, where everyone spoke to me in the familiar “tu” and I felt like the most popular girl in school.

Yes, there are significant differences in the nature of friendship across cultural lines. And I wonder what impact social media plays in widening or closing that gap. In Finland, so much of our free time was spent visiting with family and friends. It was all about “being” and not at all about “doing.” We would spend hours and hours engaged in conversation and in some moments, sitting in complete silence, but still being present. Today, I find it hard to get a group together without heads being bowed in dedication to the almighty device. It feels as if we no longer can carry on conversations with genuine eye contact and without the interruptions of our gadgets. I can’t imagine the addition of social media (and the resulting distractions of the virtual world) on my intercultural experiences over the years. I’m afraid I would have missed out on so much of the richness of the interaction, including the non-verbal cues, the meaning communicated through silence, and the bonding that transcends language. I wonder if our world would be a little less mixed up if we all took a collective technology break and tried to engage in real life friendships for a change.

Before you log off, feel free to like me, please!

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One Response to “Like Me,” Please!

  1. Amy says:

    Great job summing up the many negative aspects of social media. I agree that it has totally gotten out of hand. What can we do to change this?
    Take care! Amy

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