“If I Tweet, will someone hear it?”
“If I post this on Facebook, will people like it?”
A very dear friend recently posted this video on Facebook (it’s okay – go watch this video then come back). I’m not going to address the irony that a social media site was used to discuss how social media is a factor in loneliness. What I do want to write about, what I’ve been telling anyone who will listen for a couple of years is this: social media is not the problem. We’ve been screaming into the void for a much, much longer time.
Some of the points in the video are well taken, especially for generations that have known nothing but online social interactions. I believe the key point in the video is this: we have to be comfortable being alone, even when in front of a backlit screen. We are terrified of being alone and will do anything, anything to be seen, to be heard.
But to me, the problem is deeper than social media and online presence. Some time ago, a device was created called the telephone. Then came the television (moving pictures! wow!). Then 800 and 900 numbers popped up to help fill the loneliness of people sitting in their home, day after day, with no visitors, no family, no friends. Caller ID allowed people to screen their calls so if you were that person who called five times a day “just to talk”, now your family member, friend, neighbor could avoid you. Late night television shopping let lonely people call up someone and feel connected while using a credit card to just crush the loneliness for a bit. The 800 and 900 number psychics, priests, boyfriends and girlfriends also gave lonely people a chance to feel like they were making a real human connection. Remember the crazy success (and ultimate fall) of Miss Cleo? People would do anything to fill the void.
“Lift up the receiver, I’ll make you a believer…your own, personal, Jesus… Someone to hear your prayer, someone who will care…” – Depeche Mode
Move forward into the future and so many are still screaming into the void in an attempt to be heard – to know they are heard and seen. We see people broadcasting loudly on Facebook they are taking a “social media break”. To me, this is always a cry for help or attention. It is a clear warning shout that says “you are suppose to be my friends, why aren’t you listening to me?” It’s the scream into the void: I’m doing things! Why are you not noticing?
In the end, the telephone, TV, Facebook, Twitter, the broader “internet” – these are not our problems. They are all symptoms of something else. As a society for a long time we have been disconnected, cut-off and broken from our communities. The void is real – there is an emptiness. For many of us, we grow up in one place, go to school somewhere else, work in another place and live our adult life in yet another place. We have no community. We don’t know our neighbors. We don’t know the local shops, the local places, the name of the officers in the police force. We are cut off from one another, even as we live closer and tighter packed in urban areas. The void surrounds us.
So how do we find our community? How do we fill the void with human connections?
One way is to be authentic.
I coach all my clients to be human, to give what you want to get in social circles. You can find people with common interests and build a true connection – but there is no “short-cut”. Like any community or friendship, an online community requires you to be authentic and real. It requires effort on your part to give and get. When the call for help goes out from someone else, you have to be there. If you aren’t, that community is a past-time – not a real community. Don’t expect it to be something that fills the void if you can’t be human, real and positive. Friendships and communities just do not work that way – in person or online.
Personally, I love social media. I see pictures of my family and friends who are spread out all over the globe and I do feel connected to them. I’ve made acquaintances on Twitter that I have then made the effort to meet in person and have developed deep friendships with them. Do I believe every person who “likes” my Facebook posts is my deepest, dearest friend? Nope. But I can know that maybe I made them smile, or think, or laugh. Sometimes, maybe my posts make them cry. But if it caused a real human reaction, I believe that is a good thing.
For more information on online presence and happiness, you should check out this TEDx talk. One example she gives is how happiness can be spread – watch the video and then try it! And, try it with your online statuses too! I also wrote this blog on how my dog was able to build influence and a community online. I’d love to hear your experiences and thoughts. Comment below or tweet me @tinashakour.