One of the things that rankles me about social media and current modes of communication is how it makes people more connected and more disconnected at the same time.
I was listening to a TED program on Making Mistakes and Brene Brown resonated with me:
You know, one of the things I’ve said before is, you know, live tweeting your bikini wax is not vulnerability. You know, sharing the intimate details of your child’s emotional response to your divorce on Facebook is not vulnerability.
Embedded in real vulnerability is an honest, raw bid for connection. And, you know, if I get really shamed by a colleague in front of clients at work or something, and I come home and I put it on Facebook, man, got totally shamed at work by so and so and feel small and stupid, I might get 20 comments from other people that say, I hate when that happens, it’s happened to me, you’re not alone brother. You know, that kind of thing.
And that’s normalizing. But nowhere in that is there a raw bid for connection. If I called you after work and said, hey Guy, it’s Brene, and do you have a minute, because I just went into this total shame spiral at work, and I’m just feeling, just, I’m devastated. That’s a very vulnerable bid because I’m saying, do you have time, and do you care enough to spend a few minutes talking to me about something that’s hard. And so in my view, vulnerability is about intimacy, trust, and connection. We share our stories with people who’ve earned the right to hear them.
That’s something that’s bothered me about a lot of social media. It’s easy to share, to like, to retweet, to comment a witty one-liner… but how meaningful are those connections, really? When I was active in Facebook and Twitter for a brief time, when I moved overseas to the US in 2008, I felt connected, in some sense, but it was an empty kind of connection.
All we talked about were daily trivialities. Everything had to be positive or witty to earn a mark of approval, and anyone who dared venture into something negative got greeted by a cliched comment such as, “Hang in there!” or “Thinking of you!” or “Things will get better tomorrow, promise!” and, their problems having been addressed as such, would be swept under the rug.
That’s inevitable, especially when people are far away, and sometimes that fleeting connection may be better than none at all. But I shudder to think that this has become, in a lot of people’s minds, a standard way of relating with others. Announcements of major life events and milestones are greeted by a like or a perfunctory comment, nothing more. Issues aren’t probed or understood; they’re commented on briefly, then attention is redirected to the next item on the news feed.
There’s something different, though, about finding information that a friend has posted publicly, versus a message that they’ve told me personally. When a friend got pregnant, she eventually posted it on Facebook, but I was touched that she’d gone out of her way to tell me about it first. When I talk to a friend and express surprise at a life change they’ve gone through, their first reaction is, “but I posted it on Facebook!” Somehow it doesn’t feel the same.
But maybe it’s just me. I prefer not to spend too much time on the endless busy-ness of posting and commenting and liking and sharing on social media, because, for me, my meaningful relationships are built through heart to heart chats or phone/video calls or personal e-mails and messages. And the personal stories I tell, as Brene Brown would put it, are for people who’ve earned the right to hear them.