The Difference between a Hop, Skip and a Jump (critique of social media in 2013)

As some of you already know I recently decided to shutter my personal FB account, temporarily at least. A previous blog went into some of the reasons why. In this blog I am going to rant a little more about FB and the new online paradigm in general. I might say some things that might hurt a few feelings, and I will try to be very frank about some harsh realities. So if you are the squeamish type, you might want to opt for lighter fare, such as people usually post there. Like this dancing Chihuahua: http://www.break.com/index/the-dancing-chihuahua-2071811

Still here? OK. Lets get started.

This is going to be a detailed analysis of the new social media revolution. I’ll try to give some insight into how it has changed so many lives, and society in general, and not always for the better.

You’ll learn about my own personal story, how it intersected with some others, and you may just come away with a whole new understanding of what is going on around us, transforming the very way we interact with the world, and even transforming our lives in the process.

But first I’d like for you to meet some people.

The year is 1913. Ladies and gentlemen, meet Jenny and Dennie Jump.

They are brother and sister growing up in a small NJ city. They live fairly comfortably, since their father is a lawyer and a respected judge.

The attend a small public school (which is larger than a lot of rural schools but tiny by today’s standards).

Jenny is quite pretty and quite popular with the boys. She has a boyfriend.

But she is a little bit insecure about him. Yesterday one of her friends said she saw him talking to another girl and they seemed to be a little more than friends.

So she asks for some advice.

Her friends are limited to the small group of kids her age at her public school, and her brother, her best friend of all. She also considers her grampa, who lives with their family, a trusted mentor.

So she asks around- what should I think? What should I do?

The answers are as follows: Her grampa tells her to just ride it out, she’ll know soon enough if he’s the right one. They are both still young and have a lot of living left to do so if she enjoys his company and trusts him otherwise, go ahead and give him the benefit of the doubt until she has a reason not to.

Then she asks one of her friends from school. Lydia is Jenny’s age and, though she has never had a boyfriend, she is very close to Jenny and they have been friends since they played with dolls.

Lydia is very positive. “Don’t worry Jenny- he really loves you, he told me so!”

Then Jenny asks her brother Dennie. Jenny and her brother are also very close, born one year apart. Through the years they have had many adventures together and are both very very protective of each other.

“You know, I never really trusted him anyway. Why don’t you just tell him that you don’t feel its right that there are so many other people out there you both could be dating, and just let him go? I am really afraid you will be hurt, my dear sister!”

Well now, that helps, I better think this over, with what all three have said. Grampa says to have some patience and just let things happen naturally, Dennie thinks I should dump him, and Lydia thinks everything will be fine with him! What to do… well I have all these opinions, let me think….

While Jenny is thinking, lets fast-forward another 50 years to 1963. The quiet little town of Asbury Park NJ. Marge and Randy Skip are bother and sister. They both attend Asbury Park High School. Randy is graduating later this year. Marge has another year to go.

Marge has a job at the local Woolworth, working the cash register on weekends and one or two weeknights. She loves her job, but there’s something that bothers her. She heard her boss talking the other day and thinks he might be stealing money. She can’t be sure but she is concerned.

So she needs to ask a few people about this.

At high school Marge is considered one of the “nerds”. She gets good grades and a lot of kids don’t like that, so they put her and the other nerds down. This doesn’t really bother Marge though. She isn’t very self-conscious or insecure.

She has a friend named Sharon who she studies with sometimes, so she asks Sharon what she should do.

“I think one of the managers is stealing at work! I can’t be sure right now, but what do I do?”

“well Marge, if you don’t have any proof yet, why are you worried? When the time comes for him to answer for whatever he’s done they might question you, so at that point you can just be honest and tell them truthfully anything you’ve witnessed.” is Sharon’s response.

But that doesn’t sit too well with Marge- what if she gets implicated somehow, even through no real fault of her own?

So she calls her friend Charlotte up on her Princess Phone that her parents bought her for Christmas last year, and asks: “What should I do? I am afraid that this guy will get ME in trouble!”

Charlotte and Marge had been to Girl Scouts together, and they live on opposite sides of town, But thanks to modern technology they talk on the phone all the time. So Marge is very comfortable asking for Charlotte’s take on the situation.

Charlotte’s answer is “My God, there are plenty of jobs, go get another one. You don’t need to work there, even if you like it there. Why take a chance?”

Next, Charlotte asks Randy. Randy is a super-good-looking guy who is very popular with all the kids at school, and there’s at least a little resentment because she thinks he gets breaks that Marge has to work very hard for. But Charlotte trusts that he won’t blab anything about her question, so she puts it to him.

“You have no proof that this guy did anything. All you have is hearsay. Forget it, just do your job and stop whining!”

Charlotte is a little disappointed but not surprised. She figured that would be what he would say.

So Charlotte and Jenny both have problems, and both have some thinking to do. Fortunately, they had a wide variety of friends to get this advice from, and so can see their situations from different angles.

They’re both gonna need some time to think, so lets move on again, another 50 years. To 2013.

Kayla and Jason Hop are brother and sister, living in a town called Marlboro NJ. Its a nice town, if a bit spread out. But distance no longer matters in this modern age. You can have a conversation with kids right across town, or even across the world, and never even know exactly what they look like or very much about them at all.

Its called “Social Media”.

With Social Media comes an entirely new definition of “Friend”. A “Friend” used to mean a person you were friendly with, whether it was a family member, a person you went to school with or worked with, or had any other contact with that caused you to feel friendly towards that person.

Friends asked each other for advice. Friends shared good times and bad times. True, they often fought, and even betrayed each other. But at least they knew who they were.

With this new definition of “friend” it is likely that none of this ever occurs. It is likely that a person can rack up several thousand “friends” and never feel friendly with any of them.

How sad.

But I digress.

Kayla has a problem. Her father sees her on weekends, two weekends a month. Her parents are divorced so this is as much time as she can spend with her dad.

But lately he has been seeing someone she doesn’t like. Her name is Andrea. Andrea is mean to Kayla. She nags Kayla about how she dresses, how her grades could be better, who her friends are. Kayla doesn’t want to be around her father when he is with Andrea.

So she posts this on her Facebook page. “Feeling really bummed about having to spend time with dad and that Witch he is dating!”

Her Facebook friends respond. One of them, Christine, gets abusive. “You know you can be a really ‘Daddy’s girl’ sometimes yourself!”

She responds to Christine by unfriending and then blocking her.

More responses come in: “Why don’t you just talk to your dad and plead with him not to be around that woman when you spend time with them?”, from her friend Danielle.

So she tries that. She talks to her father. Her father responds harshly. “You are going to just have to get over the fact that YOUR mom left Me!” Kayla is so upset she leaves there crying.

She messages Danielle and tells her how it went. Danielle appears sympathetic.

Later on that night Kayla gets a text from Andrea “How dare you speak to other people about my relationship with your dad!!!” It is a very angry text. Evidently Danielle went and told Andrea about their conversation.

Kayla feels betrayed so she confronts Danielle over the phone. “Oh Kayla, you whiny little princess, just get over yourself! What, do you think you are the only one in my life- you think we are friends or something? I don’t owe you or anyone an apology.

Kayla is speechless so she hangs up.

Welcome to the Social Media revolution of 2013!

Friendship used to be a cherished commodity. Now its just a commodity, sold to us seemingly for free, but at oh what a cost.

Our choice of friends used to be limited by geography, status, and many other factors. Now, thanks to Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, etc, we have a seemingly endless supply of them. Thousands of them if we want them.

But like any other commodity, when supply overcomes demand the price and value go way, way down.

You would think it would be the other way around. You would think that, with so many choices for friends you could pick the “cream of the crop”. But wait- what is the “cream of the crop”? In many cases, it is just those group of people who echo your own values and beliefs.

Think about it. Facebook makes it so easy to surround ourselves with “Yes” people. Get rid of all the critics (even the ones who are not abusive). Then all you have left are friends who believe the same as you, act the same as you or just agree with you because maybe they want something from you.

Jenny would never get the different points of view she got in 1913 today. And neither would Marge.

By surrounding ourselves with “Yes” people (disguised as friends) we create a bubble.

Note how this works with famous people. Famous people have always lived in this bubble. When you are famous everyone wants to be friends with you. So you pick out the ones who are the most admiring and adoring, and punish anyone who stands between you and that admiration and adoration.

Congratulations Facebookers- you now have this privilege that only famous people once had!

I started my own online adventure with social media in 2008. I setup a MySpace site, while it was still a viable medium (it is currently dead as a door nail as far as any social media impact).

My site quickly became fairly popular, and I even was able to add a few dozen friends within the first few months.

I posted videos, pictures, and lots and lots and lots of blogs. Dozens of them in fact. MySpace is great for blogging, which incidently, FB really sucks at. Which is one of the reasons I started this WordPress site.

At some point though, I discovered that I was getting more friends from bands and businesses than from real people. Ultimately, that aspect of MySpace is what killed it. Now it exists only as a sort of “YouTube-on-steroids”, where you can post videos, pics, links, and yes, blogs still. And its still good at blogs as far as I know. My MySpace account has since gone the way of the Princess Phone:

411AAC6D

Which, in its day was a considered a pretty hip way of communicating also.

One of my friends suggested I follow her on Facebook. I hadn’t really thought of Facebook. Its interface I found clunky and unnattractive- no pizzaz. You couldn’t embed videos, and couldn’t have custom page layouts, which were some of what I love about MySpace.

But I took the dive and within a few months found myself right square in the middle of THAT revolution. Being one of the first my social circle to be there, I was able to give lots of timely and useful advice to others just starting who had never been online at all before: “Don’t post personal information” “Be courteous” “Be respectful when disagreeing” and on and on. I even helped some musicians setup Reverb Nation sites, which was a new music social network site at the time, and is still a powerful and useful way of getting musical “stuff” out there.

There was so much to like about Facebook I decided to forgive its interface (which, though now improved, is still very much lacking compared to other SM sites) and dive in full-time to Facebook.

Quckly I amassed hundreds, then thousands of friends. From all over the world. Of all kinds, if you were to believe their online profiles (if you believe online profiles are in fact accurate).

And its been a great ride. For the most part. So many friends! So many great pictures! (mostly of grumpy cats, dancing doggies and something recently invented called the “meme”). Of me and all my great “friends”. Except somewhere along the way something happened. You see, when you create an abundance of something, that thing tends to come down in value. Its called capitalism, the law of supply and demand, whatever, but the point is this: we have a new definition of friend in our culture. A “friend” is now someone you communicate almost exclusively online with, have possibly a few things in common with (maybe you like the same music), and NEVER REALLY GET TO KNOW.

Of course there are all kinds of friends and there always has been.

But again, the point is that Social Media has now cheapened the concept of friendship. Friendship used to mean some kind of friendliness. Now its just a list of people.

And its not that I haven’t met a lot of really nice people, its just that the cost has been very high.

Look around you. Look at how many marriages split up AFTER the person went on social media sites.

Is it because those marriages would have gone south anyway, or is it that, by surrounding ourselves with all these “Yes” people, we block out all opposing points of view?

Think about it. In Jenny’s day she could ask Grampa and her brother and her school friends what the right course was. In Marge’s day she could ask these types of friends and even friends from around town, by calling them on the phone.

But Kayla gets to block out all opposition. True, she will still have people around her she will need to have some kind of sociability with. But she doesn’t have to talk to anyone! She can just pretend she’s texting someone when one of those unpleasant people who might disagree with her comes up to talk to her.

And God forbid we confront anyone any more. That’s harassment (which I have been accused of lately). Spend years performing with someone, traveling to the ends of the earth with them and its all good. But the minute things go south and you have a problem, instead of trying to talk it out you get “Don’t ever contact me again!”

Thanks a lot Facebook. Thanks a lot modern technology.

In the old days we had to learn to get along. Maybe we worked together, or went to school together- somehow we worked out our differences.

Now, with the new rules, we’ll never have that inconvenience again.

Thanks a lot, Twitter and Tumblr. And a special thanks to MySpace.

And to those who have told me to never contact you again: The door that locks me out locks you in. The trouble with burning bridges is that the world is round.

 

 

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5 Comments

  1. Very well written! Describes the evolution of “conversation” and “friendship” perfectly!!!

    Like

  2. Al – I agree with the bubble concept, but I’m not sure that it’s all social media. In fact, I think sometimes it exists outside of social media, too. What I’m trying to say is something else is happening to us. Friendship is losing its emotional hold on us. I’m afraid we’re becoming desensitized and it may not be cured by pressing the log out button.
    I’m glad you started this discussion. It’s important.
    Maureen

    Like

    • Thanks for the thoughtful response Maureen.

      I would say- that our way of communicating is affecting our lives OUTSIDE of social media. We no longer share phones with our household- we have personal cell phones to chat and text and email amongst ourselves. We talk in groups less and less when we are out in public. We find all these ways of shutting out opposing views- and that is the bubble effect from social media having its effect on our lives. Distance used to separate us but it no longer does. So WE are given the power to separate ourselves. Which too many of us abuse- because as I said here “The door that locks me out locks you in.”

      Like

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