I have been involved with the social media web since 2006 when I first joined Facebook at the request of woman who I once supervised as a student teacher. She was my one and only friend. You’d think I would have been lonely except I didn’t even know what Facebook was at the time or what it was really for — I just clicked on the hyperlink in an email she sent me and next thing I knew I was creating a profile so I could look at her new baby’s pictures. I logged off and never went back on again for at least a year. My second Facebook friend (Don’t worry, I won’t list all of them.) was my niece who sent me a friend request with the message “Shut up, you have a Facebook?!” I had no idea this was a big deal, but that’s how I made my second Facebook friend. There was a time when my Facebook friendships have numbered in the thousands though I now my list is at a more reasonable 200 individuals.
It can’t be denied that social media has changed how we communicate. Each day, I will more than likely post something on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. I will probably look up recipes on Pinterest or share an article to my LinkedIn. I might look at the newest family portraits of a family member or college friend, read a blog post of a colleague or just watch a cat video — all shared on Facebook. I might engage in a discussion through a hashtag feed on Twitter or on Facebook status thread. It can be hard to conceptualize the connections that are being made through all these flying bits of data floating the air.
It is all so revolutionary yet commonplace at the same time. I remember receiving a memo as a new teacher explaining how our new district email worked but to not worry “It will more than likely not be a useful tool” for us anyway. Going further back into the days of my elementary school years, the best time in the computer lab (next to Oregon Trail) was when we did Logo and taught the “turtle” on screen to move in certain steps to create pictures:
With all of our webbing, we have created a sense of belonging that might not necessarily have been able to exist before. It was through Twitter that I first found out about the assassination of Osama Bin Laden and to cry with other mothers during the funerals for the children of Newton, Connecticut. I have found old and cherished friends on Facebook who were then hand in hand with me to mourn with me for the death of another friend of ours. Friends from around the world kept me company while I was on bed rest with my baby and were there to keep me company in the hospital when she was in NICU.
And yet, regardless of how small we have made our world with the Internet and its social media we are no more closely connected than we were before. In many ways, it has provided us with a sense of arrogance and power, as if we can change any person’s mind or vote with one tweet, status, blog post, or YouTube video. If one response to a status receives enough “likes” then maybe, just maybe, people will decide to go ahead and vaccinate their children. If enough misquoted quotes by Darwin are shared then that will stop people from believing in God. And surely, if the story about Einstein’s discussion with his professor and the absence of light is shared enough times, everyone will begin to believe in God.
I’ve learned a great many things about social media since I have been involved with it over the years. There is an unexplainable anger and turmoil hanging in the air, not just around me but around life in general. There is an unmistakable quiver of discontent. I’ve seen far too many emotional outbursts take place online, either through comment threads or statuses or tweets. I’m not exempt from this either. I’ve lost my marbles enough times to know I’ve got a hole in the bag. Simplistically I could say the anger is left over from the Bush Administration. Or it’s the Obama Administration. Or it’s the Truman Administration. It honestly doesn’t matter who is in office because the electorate won’t ever be happy. That’s not the answer.
No. The answer is this: For all the ways we’ve connected, nobody is being heard. The likes, shares, retweets, and favorites don’t mean a damn if the words aren’t valued. Everyone is speaking but no one is listening. Everyone is responding but no one is hearing.
I don’t have any solutions to propose or any advice. I do know that I will try to be more patient with others online and less eye-rolling — even though no one can see it. I’m sure they can feel it. And I will try to post more cat pictures through the election season.