Week Thirty-Seven: Shackled

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Is there better tool to make us stew and stew and stew than social media?

I mean there are all these teasing little burlesque windows containing tantalizing tidbits that you can go and look at or listen to or read and none of it actually says anything but it implies everything.

You can get jealous, angry, self-loathing, nostalgic, furious, embarrassed, tickled, frustrated, intrigued, or just plain exhausted as the seconds turn into minutes turn into hours spent window-shopping other people lives.

In particular the people you know semi-well. In social media, there are “friends” who are actually pretty much strangers. And in social media land, they are in essence irrelevant.  You may look through a random post here and there, but mostly the pattern is to scroll quickly past when they’re in your feed.

Then there are the people you know really well, your partner, your siblings, your parents, your best friends. These posts tug at the heartstrings or play the familiarity card or they scream telepathic messages with their private jokes. Usually they are powerful enough to snag an action of some sort, even if it is out of obligation. How simple to click. It seems to fill the empty box qualifying as interaction when you actually feel really guilty for ignoring, not responding, not phoning, forgetting a birthday. The people you know well depend on your business. They use you to generate enough buzz to interest the next concentric circle of “friends”.

But as you move toward the perimeter, the “friends” become people who can be intoxicatingly mysterious. You know enough to care, but not enough to be bored or obligated. It feel just a tinge naughty, like snooping but it is so justifiable as they put it all out there. Right? Right?

These are the folks you may know one side of and it is surprising to see an unexpected other side. It reminds you how cluelessly you view them, how simplistically you summed them up. And you’d like to remedy it. So you spend some time on the site and dig a little deeper to see what’s out there. The friend who posts pictures from  parties that make you jealous because she seems so happy. The co-worker who writes accolades about the person at work you hate the most. The professor of engineering who seems to have a very deep interest in foreign films and Himalayan cat rescue who you occasionally see at committee meetings.  The people who used to so close until…  The woman in the running club who fails to invite one to their holiday open house, but who posts an event that you see all of your friends RSVP to attend. The high school field hockey teammate. The artsy people you idolized in college who now post pictures of their kids with cake smeared all over their faces like it is the first time in history a child has done such a thing.  The people you can so easily see are struggling to find their voice, but you are too little a real life friend to actually reach out and amplify their message.

In this web, with everyone connected, there are inevitable collisions and awkward revelations. When your boss comments on your beach vacation travel pictures. When your Dad and your liberal friends get into a political fight and start insulting each other’s intelligence, intellect and honor . When your kid’s best friend checks in at the same concert where you are throwing back a second beer. Social media is rife with potential misunderstandings and misleading information that provoke endless cogitating not on known facts but on possible truths.

Does the smile that comes with the picture of the cute cat recharge the emotional battery? Do the red notifications spur the creative impulse? Or the altruistic impulse? Or do they degrade us to Pavlovian pools of our collective drool? How can the convenience of getting news in a real time always on feed outweigh the assumptions gained through micro-second analysis? Counterbalance the implications from reading not the news but a couple headlines and the status bar where friends likes and dislikes are displayed?

It is hard to say.  I feel pulled in every direction. What am I missing – out there? Probably nothing, but I could just find out. A couple minutes. Wait, I’m thirsty. I read a bunch of things…what were they, again?  Wait, I must have learned something? There was an ad for that thing I really really want. I have got to watch the show everyone is talking about. Am I showing my activism enough online?  I am not active enough. I didn’t respond fast enough. I should go back and read that thing I saw. I am so tired. I have so much to do today. Why am I second-guessing myself as I vacuum the living room. I don’t need to lose ten pounds. I’m hungry. I meant to turn the volume off on the phone. But since I heard it. Airplane mode. Am I depressed or are my eyes just tired? Allergies. I feel a bit ill. I feel boring. Am I enough? Am I invisible? Will anyone remember me? I think I need a break. I’m going.  It’s off. I’m going for a drive where’s there no service.

Wait. Where’s my charger?

 

 

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