social media and familiarity…it’s a tricksy thing

I’ve been online since the very late part of 1986. I assure you, Gentle Readers, sometimes that seems rather more impossible to me than it does to the kids that tell me, “But there was no internet then!” But I’ve loved it, for the ability it’s given my introverted self to meet friends after my many location changes, and I’ve loved it just as equally for the usefulness it’s offered to help me stay connected to my varied groups of friends.

A therapist asked me this past year, “Why do you blog?” I stared at him, wondering how anyone could ask that question. I blog because it seemed the natural progression from BBS message boards. Because it helps me keep track of my life. Because it allowed me more contact with my loved ones. Because it fed my eternal hope that family might use my online presence to find me someday.

The advent of social media – and yes, I differentiate between that and blogging because, by its very nature, blogging is a different beast – was interesting in an ‘oh look online chatting is all grown up!’ sort of way. Friendster, MySpace, LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+, etc etc etc…I’ve poked my cybertoe into pretty much all of them, and I find FB still works best for me..and it’s allowed me to find people I’ve been looking for online for a very long time.

But it’s a mixed bag, because it also allows people you’ve friended to sorta kinda know about your life. Which can be awesome, and I think it’s exactly what social media is meant to do…but it can also be kinda awkward, if a friendship has started to fall away and the habit of calling or texting drifts into, ‘Well, I can peek in on Facebook and see what’s new in her/his life,’ without personal interaction.

And sometimes that’s not such a good thing.

I think sometimes – a lot of the time – it offers a false sense of closeness. I realize that’s not a new thought, but I think we think of it more in the sense of fans thinking they have an intimate connection with celebrities rather than people thinking they have a strong friendship with someone when that’s stopped being the case, for whatever reason.

I have a dear, dear friend that, until recently, has been pretty horrid about communicating with me. I used to send him form letters to fill out and send back. He thought they were funny, and he didn’t return them, and for years we were friends because that’s how our hearts defined each other rather than what our lives mirrored. I think, had we had Facebook 20 years ago, I would have defriended him out of frustration. It wouldn’t have stopped us from being friends – no click of an electronic button should be able to do that – but rather, it would have been another version of my no longer sending him form letters in hopes of finding out what was going on in his life.

(That said, yes, I’ve had..let me think. I’ve had exactly one friendship end because I clicked the button many years ago. She still has me blocked on Facebook, although that’s not where the disconnect happened. I’m still bemused by her anger. My life improved when she wasn’t a presence in it any longer. I hope that part, at least, was mutual.)

So. It’s weird. I blog, I have an internet presence, because I value connections. It comes with a price, because there are people watching my virtual self that – well, let’s say Facebook’s “block” feature is something I wish we could extend throughout the internet. 🙂 Still, I’m mostly public, because it’s what I want for my virtual self, and I treasure the connections I’ve maintained over the years because I exist in pixelated form. But I suppose the inner conflict for me comes into play when someone I’m close to uses that online presence to check in without the extra step of a personal connection – a phone call, an email. It simply doesn’t work in my case, because most of what I post on social media isn’t the pertinent personal stuff. For me, it’s the difference between glancing at the headlines and actually reading the magazine.

If you don’t take the time to look inside, how can you really know the story?

If you don’t want the whole story, why are you looking in the first place?

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