i’ve spent more time on my personal facebook account in the last few days than i have in, maybe, ever. i thought it would be interesting to see how people dealt with the transition from one year to the next in the performance art like space of social media. what i gleaned from this bit of personal research were all the things that i’ve heard social networkers say. i found that i spent far more time in each facebook session than i had budgeted (there’s recent research that suggests users spend an average of 23.5 hours per month on the site), that i became bored long before i actually stopped interacting with the site, and that i became oddly discontent in growing measures as the days surrounding my “research” progressed. it felt to me that every tour of my friends’ posts left me feeling increasingly out of touch, emotionally uncomfortable, irrelevant, and, at times, amped up. when i posted a response, comment, or status i found myself distracted by what people might think of it and who might respond. in many ways it began to feel as though the center of my experience, as well as my feelings about myself, were residing outside of me, on my computer, rather than within my core.
it’s all so tricky. not everyone interacts with social networks in the same way. some are light hearted and honestly use such platforms to keep connected in light and quippy ways, posting status updates as they move through time with little thought of how they’ll be received. some, however, spend hours scouring photo albums in search of evidence of parties to which they weren’t invited, honors others have gathered, and diets their friends have succeeded at. these folks agonize, edit, post, then obsessively check for responses that will either boost them up or leave them flat. regardless of style of use, however, i sense that everyone, really, wants two things: to be seen and/or known and to gather responses from their audience.
even back in the stone ages of my undergraduate years, psychological research was conclusive about the effects an audience has on a person’s behavior. when there are many witnesses at the scene of a crime, each individual present is less likely to respond with help. everyone assumes that someone else has already done something. further, research subjects behave differently when they know they are being watched than they do when they believe they are not.
might this be similar in the land of public social relatedness?
if i’m engaging in a pursuit, a thought, an experience, a relationship, a conversation, etc, how does it change my engagement to ask those outside of it to see me in it? perhaps it enhances my experience or grows my sense of connection to share it via a status update. conversely, however, it might make me vulnerable. if others don’t acknowledge it, might i discredit it, seeing myself as silly, inferior, or rejected? any of these responses takes us out of the process of being in the present moment to typing about the present moment. in my opinion this must change the moment itself by removing us from the experience of the present moment (being) placing us instead in the role of observing the present moment “out loud” and to an audience (doing).
when we watch others observing their present moments publicly via status updates and/or personal narrative tweets we frequently respond either with a comparison to our own lives or with a largely emotional reaction. “i haven’t run 10 miles today.” “my daughter wasn’t invited to that gathering.” “i look 15 years older and 20 pounds heavier than my former classmates.” “no one ever comments on my posts.” “i have done nothing of import to report on.” “my kid didn’t get straight a’s or score a home run or win the student government election.” “i’m so disappointed in my lack of...well...everything.” sometimes it’s even worse and we notice check ins and facebook posts made during a time a friend turned us down because they needed to “work late/study/or take care of their mom.” in reviewing our friends’ narratives about their present moments we find support for our fears that we are not enough and we find models of who we should be to be seen more effectively.
the experience of seeing and being seen shapes us. patterns begin to form over time and we begin to significantly manipulate the picture our audience has of us as we selectively post about our lives. our “doing” (writing) about our “being” (living) takes on a form that we feel will allow us to be seen and responded to as though being seen and responded to is being known and being connected.
but is it?
when we are seen and responded to for our funny, smart, provocative posts we begin to believe that those qualities are the ones that are desireable (connectable) and we become less and less likely to post experiences that aren’t funny, smart, or provocative. we tell ourselves (either consciously or unconsciously) that our genuine, authentic, sometimes mundane and other times insanely interesting selves don’t garner friends. rather our best presented, most interesting, highly publicized selves gain followers. followers watch. followers notice. followers see. and yet followers rarely move past passive seeing into genuine, responsible connecting.
let’s face it, status updates on social networks don’t typically lend themselves to the kinds of topics people really “need,” and often desire, to be known in. who posts, “i really feel lonely these days. anyone have time for an in depth chat?” “i feel scared about my dr’s appointment this week. anyone free to provide some words of encouragement.” “i’ve messaged 10 people on match.com and have heard back from none of them. am i really this undesirable?” if we did post such status’ who would respond and how would they do so?
i was talking with someone recently about internet dating. he spoke (as does nearly everyone i know who has used such sites) of the constant feeling of rejection and turmoil he experienced in using the site. he has a unique, creative, celebrated career that spans both coasts, is young and physically attractive, knows how to dress, garnered accolades at a prestigious east coast university, and has a quick and dry sense of humor. he has all the things that our culture dictates as desirable and yet, he felt seen in these unique social networks, only for what he lacked. he felt sized up and evaluated. seen but not known. then rejected.
when he told me about removing his profile from these sites he spoke of things “even-ing out” for him. he used a hand gesture when he said this that looked like that of a music conductor directing the orchestra to hold a long, low note.
after my week of hyper facebook use i need this. i crave it. i long for the even-ing out of living in my moments rather than observing them for the perfect event/thought/experience to broadcast to my audience. i desire to be fully present to my own responses to my comings and goings and to find them compelling enough to not always desire to have others weigh in on them. i want to respond to others because they matter not because i want to.
i need my center to be in me, not on my wall.