Guest Blogger: Jodi Guilbault
I tweet, I retweet, I post, I tag, I like, I dislike, I poke, I comment, I message, I chat, I blog, I hashtag, I friend, I unfriend, I connect, I link in, I create lists, I join groups. All before my first sip of water in the morning. I literally do just about everything to participate in this social media craze, but draw the line at FarmVille, FrontierVille and any game where I need to borrow food and supplies to be part of an imaginary world since this one appears to be challenging enough. That’s a lot of action verbs before I even start my day job…and I’m already fantasizing about a nap.
But I need to come clean. I have been in love with the written word since I was quite young. I wrote poetry and poured over song lyrics from every genre since I was 8. I am a true believer of the written word. In most circles, I have been accused of being a word enthusiast, addict, admirer, devotee, aficionado–and way too literal and precise for my own good. I utterly and whole-heartedly respect the written word. In my mind, there is nothing that words can’t fix, enhance or conquer. In fact, I’m pretty sure words alone can bring world peace and solve our debt crisis. To me, there is nothing better than a beautifully crafted string of words that educate, make us smile, bring hope, leave us breathless or changed forever.
As a writer, I get paid to compose, tell stories and communicate all day long, every day. It does more than pay the bills…it soothes my soul and gives me a purpose. Right now, this very second, my dopamine and serotonin levels are off the charts! My love for communicating knows no bounds. Until social media came knocking at my door. And now, like many, I’m on full-blown overload and tired of hearing my own voice—let alone others. After a long day at work, the novelty of communicating has come and gone by 9:00 p.m. In addition to being depleted of all sane and friendly thoughts, in my exhaustion I literally have no means of expression left. I have officially reached android status.
But the pressure to stay connected has hit an all-time high and the invites never seem to let up. In the last three months, with so many new networking sites emerging, the cycle is never-ending. We’ve officially mastered redundancy in our communications and beaten it to death…and then killed it again.
Have we no true rock bottom on communicating? Is it never enough or just an endless hole that can’t be filled? Are we really obligated to stay connected with the very same people across 3-5 different networking sites? At times, I feel like social networking has turned into a large number of people in an over-crowded room all talking at the same time—and no one is listening. We’re just thinking of our next comment or post. That doesn’t sound very social to me.
I need to know straight up, is there a person on this planet who actually thinks we are ‘under-communicating’ and need even more ways to be intertwined in each other’s most sacred thoughts? I literally can’t fathom the person who answers yes to this question….but I know they would give me an “extrovert headache” and put me back in my introverted shell so fast you would likely find me in fetal position rocking and banging my head against the wall…gently, of course.
I am not a recluse or people-hater (much), but I don’t really need any more social networks to join or maintain. BranchOut, Google+, MySpace, YourSpace, etc, etc. Aren’t LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter perfectly acceptable ways for one person to stay connected? I’m telling you…this social networking craze is making me anti-social. I crave quiet, stillness, vanilla and white noise more than ever. Perhaps, it’s time to examine the impact that comes from being excessively social, and why online validation has become our latest pastime and obsession.
For otherwise, well-adjusted adults, what is the effect of being social 24/7? Is it slowly turning us into narcissists, needy attention-cravers who feel compelled to ‘over-share’ and TMI all day long so there is constant motion and activity to prove we are alive? (What’s scary is some were already full-blown, card-carrying narcissists before they collided with social media—a lethal combination!)
So what compels us to share and over-share with 829 of our closest “friends” now? Even our close friends don’t care if and when we drank a small, non-fat cappuccino with no whip. Are we pressured to be pithy all day, every day or is it just self-induced pressure that doesn’t really exist? Are we expected to be a one-stop shop for all news and entertainment? If so, our Facebook pages have all become 24-hour cable news channels. So why do we take on this arduous, unrelenting responsibility? The fact that it was never ours to begin with seems to be lost on most.
I feel we all have the capacity to be fascinating for about 11 seconds and then it’s pretty much over. But some never got that memo. They assume they are fascinating about every 6.5 minutes or at least every half-hour on the hour of every day—or so their tweets and Facebook posts attempt to convey. At one time or another, we all have something intelligent, adroit, compassionate, entertaining and informative to share. But after that, we feel the need to keep talking, or maybe we feel pressured to post for fear of looking like an exposed bore compared to our friends and followers.
Recently, people have defected to other networks or deactivated accounts because the novelty has worn off. Perhaps it is simply because there are only a finite number of things you can say publicly day after day. It does get old and one does get tired of always-on exchanges. I’m uber curious to see at the end of it all if social media does suck us dry, if anyone truly ends up as friends or acquaintances, if a shred of tolerance for humanity is left, or if social networking leaves us numb and disenchanted. Will we simply clam up and go back to where we came from? After all: familiarity breeds contempt.
What would happen if we were just all still for one hour of the day and no one said a word, or tweeted or posted a New York Times article, or God forbid, no one posted their Starbucks latte on Facebook or “checked in” or told us where they were 50 times a day? (Yes, in my weaker moments, I too have been guilty of such behaviors from time to time, but in my defense, I was intentionally a late adopter of social media, opened a Facebook account only under duress, and avoided it for as long as a communications professional could without getting fired….and I don’t check-in anywhere if you must know!)
Does the quiet hum of ‘cyber silence’ really leave a void? Would we feel disconnected and alone if we opted out temporarily to catch our breath? Seriously, what would happen if we took the “social” out of social media for just an hour and completely timed out? After all, most of us are not getting compensated for our commentary…and let’s face it, sometimes we couldn’t get a penny for our thoughts—let alone a single “like.”
What if our minds were just quiet, the online world was still, our senses unengaged and unburdened and we weren’t over-stimulated for even 30 minutes of the day? What if we could all just breathe, exhale, decompress, go on vacation and be present in that moment with the people physically around us— and really, truly “feel” for those few minutes, an hour or even a day. We could be assured the world would go on without us and we really would be ok, when and if, we wanted to re-join it. What if we were all confident enough with just a little mystique every now and then, and some thoughts really were just our own? Does that sound like a big, scary world? For me, it’s closer to a little slice of heaven.
In the end, we can’t take our posts with us and it’s not about who has the most friends, subscribers, tweets or followers. A little time-out never hurt anybody. So put the iPhone down and back away from the keyboard….all is well. The social infrastructure, as we know it, won’t implode without you for a day. Embrace the liberation. And if you’ve managed to contain yourself just this once, congratulations! You’ve just mastered Step one. Only 11 more to go…
The one time I tried it, I recall it feeling like an exhale the size of Texas.