Jan 9, 2012

The Ties That Bind

I have 290 Facebook friends. I have my Facebook friends divided up into lists, so that if I want to filter whose messages to read I can. I also have a 'restricted' list for those people that I am friendly with, but perhaps don't need to see every detail of my life. I even have a very short blocked list, but that's another issue all together.

If I was to sit back, and go down that list of friends, there are less than 20 people that I would consider close friends. I am only really socially interactive with less than 20 of 290 friends that I have on Facebook. And those people, are individuals that I don't communicate solely through Facebook with. I am only tied closely to 16 people.

It's an interesting concept, this social media construction. I think my biggest problem with Facebook is that it gives me a false sense of 'family'. I have several friends whose postings I follow religiously. And comment on their postings quite often. But, if I was to take away Facebook, would we ever see each other? There are a few of them I haven't ever even met in person.

I think I utilize tools like Facebook to give myself an easy way out. If I comment enough on your stuff will it make you feel like we are friends, and forget about the fact that we haven't seen each other in over a year?  Perhaps it's the now hectic lives we lead, overflowing with obligations and distractions, that has caused us to feel like a connection created in a virtual world could ever substitute for real human interaction.

Facebook has it's uses as well, for example; public figures can utilize it to stay in contact with their many supporters or fans. It's a valid platform for such a cause. In a world where we have become instantly globally connected with the boot of a modem it can serve as a fantastic free marketing tool. Announcing events, scheduling get-together's, allowing your fans to see the more human side of you as well. We like to feel connected.

But is that connection? Last year, when I had less than a day to pack my belongings and leave my house, I sat on the floor of my bathroom and cried. I sobbed like I never had. You know why? It wasn't because I had just got the most shocking news of my life, it wasn't because my world had just been turned upside down, and it wasn't because I had stubbed my toe on the bathtub. It was because in that moment I realized that I had an extremely short list of people that I felt safe enough to call. I had 4 people locally at that time that I felt like I could call for help. And none of them were family. (I will say, however, two of them truly are exactly LIKE family, even if we don't share a bloodline).

So, are we perhaps deluding ourselves into a false sense of connection? What TRULY ties us together? How well do you REALLY know the people whose Facebook pages are littered with things that you have liked, commented on, or re-shared? Do any of them know my favorite color? Do any of them know how many different states and cities I have live in? Do any of them know what my drink at a bar is, what my family is like, or that I am actually a huge nerd that thinks farts are still funny? Well, they might know that last one.

A year ago, in a cruel moment of irony, I realized I had hundreds of people that were total strangers to who I really am, and what I really feel. I am starting to feel less and less like I need hundreds of people to know what I am doing everyday, or what funny thing my kid said. I would rather share those things with people who are actually interested beyond the click of a 'Like' button. But it is a cold bucket of water when you realize how few of your Facebook friends would drop everything they had and rush over to your house at your absolute lowest moment.

I'm actually not entirely disenchanted with Facebook, even though this may come across that way. But, I am a little tired of utilizing it as a cheap fast-food version of a social experience. And, in some ways, I am tired of others proclaiming that we have such an amazing connection when they don't really know a damn thing about me. I mean, I know I post a lot, but there is nothing of true substance there. I think I can count on one hand how many times I have posted anything about my divorce, as an example.

Your social media experience is your own. And I certainly don't mean to prescribe a definition of your interactions, or the benefits or experiences you have gained because of it. And my experiences haven't been bad for the most part either. But, when you are sitting on your bathroom floor staring at a long list of people that you label as friends and you don't know any of them well enough to truly BE a friend......what are they really?

Our jam packed lives have created a need to modernize our friendships, and redefine them in a way that allows us to feel a connection. But the minute you power down that computer, or turn off that Facebook app on your cell phone, those connections become exactly what they are. Two lives joined together by a tiny string. An illusion. A bathroom floor actualization.

I hope that I can try and spend more time creating true connections, and true bonds. Which means that I am probably in for a lot of heartache. This is a world where people are used to being able to anonymously confront or friend one another from the comfort of their own home without having to carry on a conversation face to face. But I want a hug. A real one. And I want to be able to touch, and see, and smell, and experience my friendships. I want the opportunity for some of them to evolve in a way that a virtual world just won't allow. I want to have to become a brave person who is able to speak my mind directly to someone's face. I want to feel a REAL sense of longing to see someone, instead of being satisfied with words on a screen for now. And I'm pretty sure I'll get there. I just have to log out.

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