A few months ago, I got on the subway in Manhattan to make my way to JFK airport. After a few stops, a group of teenagers joined the train. Great, I thought, now it’s going to get noisy, as I recollected encounters with high school students on the subway when I lived in New York in the mid-1980s.
But I was wrong. I had forgotten the 1980s belonged to the pre-social media era. These students did not make a sound – every single one of them had eyes on a phone and both thumbs poised on the screen. I slowly maneuvered to glance over the shoulder of one of them. She was concentrating on a game. I shifted to look at another student’s phone. He was scrolling down his Facebook homepage. I couldn’t see the screens of any other phones, but I guessed that a young woman across from me was texting, because her thumbs were busy at work.
As pleasant as the quiet was, it was also a bit eerie. Do these kids not talk to each other? It made me think of my own use of social media. I joined Facebook at the encouragement of my children, who wanted me to see their photos and videos they were making (I know, I should feel lucky my kids wanted me to “friend” them). Soon my list of contacts grew, as family members and friends found me on the social media platform. And then it did not take long for long-lost friends to find me – I am now thrilled to be connected with classmates from high school and even middle school.
I definitely see the advantages of social media. For example, it’s great for organizing reunions and sharing photos of a trip. But do I really want to see a photo of someone’s lunch, or check out a video of cute puppies? In other words, are we using social media to be social? Are people posting, blogging or tweeting to connect with specific people?
I wonder whether this social media phenomenon is not an unsocial media, keeping us from actually interacting with each other. How about calling someone instead of sending an instant message? How about communicating something that really matters instead of telling your whole network of “friends” that you are enjoying a glass of wine on the terrace this fine evening? Personally, I don’t really care that your cat looks funny chasing its own tail. By tweeting or posting for the masses, we are spewing stuff into the Ethernet without knowing if anyone cares or even looks at it. No, this unsocial media is more of a selfish one, where we narcissistically communicate things that we expect others to be thrilled to see.
If you live far away, I would prefer a personal message by email if you want to connect. Or tell me on Skype that you have posted some photos from your last trip. I will gladly go to your Facebook page to have a look. But if you live nearby, don’t be unsocial; stop by for a cup of coffee to share your news and thoughts. I am ready to listen.