Does social media influence our ability to interact in real life?
I've had a little success in the past few months between blog posts making the Huffington Post and The Good Men Project. I am always surprised at how well my posts do, and even more surprised at the overwhelming number of supportive, positive comments that I get from other moms or parents. From sleepless moms who feel my pain to breastfeeding moms who have gone through many of the same circumstances, to people who have lost their brother like I have, or who have been married as long as I have. The comments are heart-warming, and I keep them in a nice warm spot next to that thumpety-thump in my chest.
I also love comments that disagree with me. I love to have started a dialogue, to encourage someone to say, "That wasn't my experience. My experience was this." I am a firm believer that sharing your experiences aids other moms/dads/parents in feeling like they are not alone. But then there are those other comments, the ones that I mostly ignore, that make me ponder the kind of society social media has turned us into. Would I ever, for instance, tell a mom in real life that she's just complaining? "Waaah. Don't have kids." Or say that they seemed "whiny and a little insecure"? (I have had both comments aimed in my direction recently.) Or would I be polite and choose not to comment at all? The problem with social media is it gives us this feeling of privelege--we can comment if we want, and since these people don't know us, what does it matter?
I'm pretty thick-skinned. I have a very conservative sister-in-law whose political rants have given us some moments of disagreement--but no matter how strong our politics are, I don't take it to heart. Why? Because in the real world we wouldn't say the things we say to each other on Facebook, and in all honesty, politics probably wouldn't even come up. But recently I have tried my darndest not to comment on her political posts, because I wouldn't have that conversation face-to-face. I love my sister-in-law and I would instead ask what she has been up to, how her son is doing, and how work has been. We might mention that we didn't like a certain piece of legislation and why, but, being of the generation that happened before Facebook means that we still, in our "real" lives, we would do so with courtesy and with a much slower reaction-time.
Now we see a generation who, influenced by the behavior on social media websites, have lost many of the social niceties that have shaped our face-to-face interactions before Facebook and Twitter. Reaction time isn't filtered, and often what they think pops out before they have had time to decide whether or not it's impolite, or downright rude. I guess time will tell if our social media lives will drip over into the "real" lives of my generation, but I have to hope that common courtesy wins the day instead. What an angry, antisocial world it would be otherwise! In the meantime, I'm going to continue to try to keep my comments limited to those I would make in real life. Winky smiley face. Hashtag respect.