Hi. My Name is Karen, and I am a User (of social media)
365 Days of Writing
Prompt: How do you feel about social media, and why do you participate?
I believe that I began using Facebook in 2009 (I could go to my account right now and check this fact, but I will rely on my faulty memory instead), and only added a few friends initially. I was nervous about putting my personal information out there. I was worried about who might see it, and what they might think.
I knew that my friends were using, but I hesitated still, resisting the instant gratification and inevitable letdowns that I would come to know so well over the next few years. I was wise enough about my own habits to know that once I started, I would never be able to stop. I am too ashamed to tell you how many times I check for new status updates, or refresh my “stats” page to see how many clicks I’ve received. Often, if I wake in the middle of the night, I have to get my fix before I can go back to sleep. Since I am such a frequent user, I don’t get quite the rush that I used to get in the early days when someone liked my post – I only want more. Refresh. Refresh. Refresh.
I have found a new friend and colleague at my new job, and she is not a user. I did not, at first, realize this about her. We began having wonderful conversations shortly after we began working together, and discovered that we were at similar places in our lives. She, however, as I came to learn, has managed to resist the call of social media, describing it as insincere and falsely positive (I am paraphrasing her thoughts). She recounted to me a news story she had recently read, in which a man, on the internet, sent out a plea for someone to call him because he was so lonely. He posted his phone number on some website, and received numerous calls from new “friends” who wanted to reach out and assure him that the world need not be such a lonely place. Her very pointed point about the story was that this man was somehow being neglected by people who actually knew him. Although he likely had friends, family, acquaintances, he was so lonely that he was begging for kindness from strangers.
Are we all reaching out on the internet because we aren’t otherwise receiving the attention or affection we need? Am I? I suppose that in many ways it is easier to receive sympathy from someone who doesn’t already know all my quirks and inadequacies – someone from whom I haven’t already distanced myself in some way. Strangers haven’t yet grown tired of me. Of course, I know for a fact that I have friends and family who will take my call at any hour, provide whatever letter I need from them, or drive me to pick up my car from the shop. But sometimes I just don’t want to ask. Sometimes we need a fresh ear to listen.
My friend said, “Where is your Karen?” (Supposing Karen was the person reaching out to strangers on the internet.) What she meant was that while we have our telescopes pointed out into the infinity of cyberspace, someone under our noses might need us more. But we already know that person. We have heard their complaints not once, or even twice. We know those complaints by heart, and they become easier to ignore. I think that it is rare that people actually take advice. Deep down, they know what they need to do. Even if they don’t, any advice an outsider gives will likely be molded to fit the situation, if not ignored completely. People know. They may listen, and may nod in agreement, saying “yeah,” in all the right places, all the time knowing full well that the moment you leave their sight (or space), what you have poured your soul into concocting will go down the nearest drain.
My friend’s words were searing food for thought for me. What she offered burned my tongue and left my tummy upset the next day. In many ways, she is absolutely right. In many ways, however, I, as do we all, have control over the depths to which I will sink into the abyss of deep space. I am the only one who can decide when enough is enough, and when I have crossed the line into ridiculousness, ignoring real life for the shell of my life that exists online. We all need to disconnect from time to time, and give that organ (whichever one that is) a chance to regenerate itself under the loving care of real, human interaction.
But as with all who have become crippled to a vice, I will start tomorrow. I owe it, at least to myself and those closest to me, to close down, shut off, disconnect from my online facade and pay closer attention. At the very least, I will shame and convince myself when not online, that I will use less frequently. What better time to start than first thing tomorrow. But for tonight, I still have the “refresh” button. Come on baby, don’t let me down.