In the wake of my colleague’s post regarding social media, I did a bit of thinking about my own interactions. Sure, some of that was prompted by certain world events, but not as much of it as you would think. I was actually thinking more about personal interactions over social media, and what constituted a ‘meaningful interaction’, or at least, what was an interaction that I would consider meaningful. Without belaboring the point, I started out with the suggestion put forth in the last post and took it a bit further; I removed people from my friends lists that, I thought, didn’t really have a reason to be there.
But even that isn’t the real issue, I don’t think. The real issue is that even within the context of keeping a small group of people that one interacts with online, there are still so many negative feelings associated with social media. For me, it’s not enough to simply turn off everything and therefore get rid of the problem by omission, though that’s certainly a valid suggestion. I would instead prefer to examine the problem and figure out what some of the root causes are, and from there try to present a solution that could, possibly, appeal to those people who do want to continue to interact online.
In the previous post, the concepts of ‘over-sharing’, overreacting, and the lowering of inhibitions on the internet were addressed. Certainly, the danger there is that those factors combine to make a lot of people seem pretty crazy on the internet. However, I would like to point out a more subtle consideration that is normally not thought of at all: the consideration that should be taken when just plain ‘sharing’. The simple truth is: no matter how small a person’s friends list is, and no matter how much care is taken in cultivating that list, the things you say will negatively affect someone in ways you do not intend.
To get an idea of what I’m talking about, imagine that you have something really good that you want to tell people, like perhaps some sort of accolade that you achieved at work or school. You would probably talk about it with people who would feel happy for you and who want to know when those sorts of things happen to you, right? But you probably shouldn’t talk about it if, just moments before, a friend was lamenting over the loss of their job, right? This is a social interaction technique called ‘censoring oneself for one’s audience’, and it is a skill that is, tragically, lost on the internet because it is easy to forget that your audience is literally your entire friends list. And no matter what, at any given point in time there is going to be at least one person on that list who has just had something bad happen to them and who will be hurt by hearing just how great things are going for you. Similarly, if you complain about something, there is always going to be at least one person who has it worse than you.
So is the answer to never talk about anything that’s going on in your life at all? Well, it’s okay to talk about things that happen to you to other people. In person. Not, to use a phrase that was used before, shouting it from a mountaintop for everyone to hear and not caring about the repercussions. And when speaking in person, censor yourself to your audience. Wait a few days. Then maybe post that thing to a social network if it’s the sort of thing that you really think should be shared.
Yes, the internet has done a lot of positive things in regards to breaking down barriers between people, but in doing so it has also broken down the art of ‘conversational etiquette’. People don’t think that sort of consideration is important anymore, and this means that a lot of people walk away with bad feelings toward each other and toward the internet as a whole. It really doesn’t have to be that way, and with a bit of social adjustment, perhaps we can reclaim a bit of that etiquette that has been lost along the way.