It is pretty safe to say that social media is here to stay. Facebook has 300 million users that visit the site everyday. Twitter has 56 million users with an active account (following at least 8 others.) Perhaps we may even see Facebook and Twitter evolve the way Microsoft and Apple did (or are?) "Are you on Facebook?" "No way. Facebook sucks. Twitter man. Twitter." Regardless of what we are are tinkering with in five years there is really no going back - another adapt or die moment...or not.
My dabblings in social media over the past four years have made me realize how insulated my life is, and perhaps always has been. Yes, social media is a great way to connect with the people from high school so you can see with your own eyes who hit their peak at 17. But there is a dark side and I don't mean of the "child predator" variety. People have issues. Serious ones. And even though I think of myself as open-minded with a pretty good handle on understanding that "I don't know what I don't know" I have had more regretful, bone-chilling interactions with people than I ever thought possible.
The neighborhoods we live in, the restaurants we frequent, the organic foodstores we patronize, the schools our children attend all create a bubble around us that determines who we will, and who we will not, encounter. Walls are inadvertently built around us just by virtue of the choices we make or the good fortune that has crossed our paths. Those walls, that bubble, means there are certain people we are probably never going to meet. They don't travel in our circles and I am not really talking about socio-economics and I am certainly not talking about race or religion - although I know those walls are often constructed too. I am talking about walls that are built silently without our knowledge.
Since we don't really know those walls are there, it is not until something breaks through them do we realize how safe they made us feel. Social media tears down those walls - breaks through them - in good ways and in, well, bad ways. Someone who was on the other side of your invisible wall is now a click away. They are commenting on your post, they're "liking" your picture, they are retweeting your thought to their followers like a piece of red meat thrown to a pack of wolves. Then you better brace yourself for the assault. If you are not careful your views and opinions can get you thrown into the middle of cage match. (Just for good measure, never forget the first rule of Fight Club.)
It hasn't all been an experiment in terror. There has been the joyous reunion with a childhood friend, the friendship with a family member that ascends to a different level, and even the unexpected mending of an old wound. About a month ago I posted a CNN video about a girl who was stood up by her prom date but was then banned by her school from actually going to the prom. Having gone through a similar experience as a high school senior (the stood-up-for-the-prom part not the banned-from-the-prom part) I posted it and said "been here - but I won't mention any names!" Knowing that the guy that stood me up (now part of my friend list) might see it. It has been over 20 years and if it still had any sting left I never would have been able to joke about it. I didn't take it very seriously then and I certainly don't now. But much to my surprise he takes it very seriously, even today. Instead of responding to my public post with a good-natured yet snarky remark (as I was expecting) he sent me a heart-breaking private message. All these years later my post had cut deeper than I had ever expected or intended. "If I never apologized to you let me do that now. I am truly sorry for how I treated you. If I live to be a hundred I will always feel bad for what I did." I treated what happened like a punch line at a cocktail party "yeah I got stood up for the prom" and all that time it was something that gnawed at him when he thought about it. It was something, he said, he really tried not to think about. My post was like a punch in the gut. I felt terrible.
We all have things we wish we could take back and do over in our lives, probably more than we can list in one sitting. But what I never really thought about was how I might be entangled in someone else's regret. At the time my ego was bruised for a couple of weeks but I survived. I never would have dreamed in a million years that he even thought about what happened. We are all fragile and for some reason we walk around thinking we are the lone vulnerable daisy in a forest of redwoods. Every one of us is fighting a tremendous battle every day - why don't we acknowledge that more? This shit is hard. Perhaps it is the very nature of social media itself that perpetuates the illusion that other people have it together more than we do - that things are easier for other people. We need to remind ourselves that, on Facebook, everyone is ready for their close up.
Our Christmas card this year was of my two sons in matching elf pajamas in front of our jukebox with their guitars and Santa hats, big smiles and arms around each other. "Rock your socks off this holiday season!" Picture perfect. If people only knew what it took to get that money shot. It took over an hour, each kid was in time out at least twice. It was horrible. I honestly felt like I should have included a "making of" video with each card that revealed the truth behind the Norman Rockwell-ness snapped by my camera at just the right moment. "Don't let the perfection fool you. We're a mess. Happy New Year!" We are too hard on ourselves.
Whether we realize it or not, we truly are all in this together. So keep calm and carry on.