“We lived on farms, then we lived in cities, and now we’re going to live on the internet!” – Sean Parker, “The Social Network”

I am not a big fan of social media. If it was up to me, I would have no problem doing without the vast majority of it. I know what you’re thinking… “and yet you’re saying this via social media”. The irony is not lost on me. In fact, that irony, that realization, frustrates me to no end.

I’m old enough to remember when the tech du jour was an Apple II. I remember having a Commodore 64 in my room and learning to properly type using it. I remember the old brick cellphones and how cool it was when the phones got small enough to fit in your back pocket. I remember the hiss and buzz of dial-up internet and using a text based interface to navigate around the just emerging internet. I remembering using ICQ to chat to friends during my high school and college days.

When I look at the way the internet and social networking have evolved, I honestly feel like we’ve taken a step back as a society. There’s something disconcerting about knowing that I can call, email, text and yell off of my balcony trying to get hold of someone to no avail, but send them a Facebook message and *boom* less than five minutes later I’ve got a reply.

I have a Facebook account and I post almost every day. Usually I try to post something that is so absurd that when you read it will make you laugh and forget all the drama going on around you. I’ve wanted to leave Facebook several times but every time I want to I get flooded with messages saying “I’ll miss you!”, “Don’t go, you make me laugh!” and “If you leave, where will I get my daily reminder of how important my sanity is to me when I see you’ve clearly lost yours?”… and then my wife chimes in telling me she likes to have me on Facebook as a balance against all the drama people post.

It’s that drama that makes me want to leave and why I don’t like social media to begin with. I’m all for wanting to stay in touch, checking up on how my friends and family are doing, and finding out about what’s going on in the community. But that makes up maybe 20% of what comes across my Facebook page. The rest is usually a weird mixture of baby photos (or statuses about how little Timmy or Janie learned to use the potty or discovered the cat doesn’t taste as good as it looks), Instagram photos (I don’t understand how over-saturating the colors makes a photo 72% more awesome), and drama about how your boyfriend or girlfriend is the greatest person since Albert Schweitzer, or something about how you can’t believe your “best” friend would do whatever it is they did. This time.

It is true that I’ve found long lost friends using social media. It’s fun to reconnect and see that I’m the only one not going bald and that their hopes and dreams are still, like mine, hopes and dreams. I like being able to support friends doing fundraisers (when I can afford it) and cheer them on when they have a big event like a wedding, birth of a child or when they finally finish grad school. Yet, for all these good things I find myself feeling strangely more disconnected than ever in terms of having actual one on one face-time with people.

When I was growing up, if I wanted to see what my friends down the street were doing, I’d put on my shoes and go ring their doorbell. Most of the time that was the extent of planning out the afternoon. We’d run home and get our bikes and baseball gloves and go to the nearest diamond, or ride over the mall and see what was new at the comic book store. It seems that walking down the street has been replaced with texting and while it’s more efficient, I don’t find it anywhere near as fun.

I understand the allure of texting… you can have a conversation with someone without having to actually have a conversation with them. It’s also handy in an emergency, since you can get the word out quickly no matter where everybody happens to be at that moment. Unfortunately, I see our society dumbing down because of it. I’ve seen entire Facebook posts written in just “netspeak”. A friend of mine who is a university psychology professor has told me he’s had papers written almost entirely in that same netspeak shorthand. I can’t shake this feeling that if we continue this way that a few centuries from now we will have thumbs that rival Superman’s but will end up saying “oh… so that’s what you actually look like” when we finally meet up with each other. Assuming we can make that coherent of a sentence and not just “u look funy. lol. :)”

Maybe I’m too old fashioned for my own good, but I hate texting. No, not “hate”. Maybe “loathe to the very core of my being” is better. Seriously, if you want to tell me something, take the two minutes to call me. The usual complaint is “but it costs more”. Congratulations… you’ve just shown how valuable you consider your time and conversation to be. If the cost is really that big of a deal, next time I see you I will give you a dollar to cover the immense expense of calling me.

There are two other aspects of social media that really bother me. The first is this sense that the world needs to be informed of your every decision. Do I really need to know that you went to Wal-Mart? Or what you had for dinner? Or that you like it when your socks don’t match? As riveting as all this information flowing about is, I’m pretty sure I can live without it. It might be difficult to shoulder on in a world without knowing that your cat likes to be called “snookums” as opposed to “fluffy” but, somehow, I’ll manage to go on.

The second aspect ties into the first aspect of over-estimating one’s importance to society. It’s that the anonymity of the internet puffs people up into making “tough guy” statements they have no chance of backing up in real life. From calling someone out for any slight, real or otherwise, to making racial, ethnic and religious slurs, there’s a sense that because you’re not face to face with the person, there’s no real consequence. You’ve all read comments to this effect. I really wonder how many tough guys there would be if they had to say it face to face, knowing the other person can instantly retaliate in a way you can’t avoid simply by disconnecting from the internet.

Perhaps what I’m really missing is the feeling of community and good, engaging conversations. Social media seems to have put us on the path to be trained to limit our thoughts to 140 characters and whittle away our feelings to whatever fits in a soundbite. Social media consultants will tell you that the explosion of personal media outlets is the greatest transformation of the past 100 years. I don’t buy it. And not just because they’re paid to hype social media. For all the chances we have for reaching out, we squander them on mindlessness. I fear that many truly brilliant ideas have been missed because of the never-ending cacophony of all our social media outlets.

I’ve heard it said that social media is a necessary evil. I disagree. “Evil” is only “necessary” when we refuse to live without it, despite a better choice possibly existing. I’ve heard people say “I can’t live without my smartphone”. Really? Try leaving it at home sometime and see just how quickly you die, probably by falling over-dramatically, in slow-motion, with choral music playing.

We can say more than ever, in more ways than ever, but do we really have anything to say? Now… stop reading this, leave your computer and go outside without any communication device on you except your own vocal chords. Get reconnected.

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