Recently my granddaughter mused that her college friends, when consuming too much alcohol, often lamented their woes, going on and on about their less-than-idyllic childhood or other problems they do not normally discuss when sober. She attributed this to the fact that most people in her generation communicate through social media where they must put on a happy face; therefore they do not have an opportunity to talk about what troubles them. Whether her assessment was correct or not, is not central to this post. What intrigues me is what “face” people chose to reveal on social media.
Entering the world of social media was torture for me (just like blogging has been difficult). First of all the idea of presenting my life, my ideas, and myself to a mass audience was terrifying. I am a private person, who likes people but who limits discussing my personal feelings with my sister, my brother, and my closest friends. (Or at least that is how I perceive myself.) I also completely understand that my opinions, my beliefs, and my feelings are first and foremost MINE, and therefore not necessarily of interest to anyone else. And most importantly, any value attributed to my opinions, beliefs and feelings is based on personal opinion and therefore PERSONAL—a concept I wish many other people understood. I might think they are great or important, and maybe some friends or family think they have merit, but so what? We normally have relationships with people who like us—and who therefore agree with our views and perceptions. It does not mean my opinions, beliefs and feelings (just like everyone else’s) should be considered “fact” or the “norm,” from which all other opinions, beliefs and feelings are judged.
By using social media I was going out into a “faceless” community, as I was not communicating to one person but to many who were out there in cyberspace. That presented a number of challenges because my social media audience was made up of people who were close family and friends, as well as family of friends and acquaintances; and if any of them “liked” something, then people I never met would have access to what I had posted. This social media world was a clear departure from communicating in the “real” world when a person must face another person to whom they are speaking, and will therefore be confronted with the consequences of saying what they have chosen to say—responses that could be verbal or physical, depending on what was said and to whom. Certainly in a one-on-one, face-to-face encounter I would not discuss the same things to everyone. In addition, I am fully aware that people have different perceptions of me—and those perceptions do influence what I say. I am also fully aware that the people in my list of “Facebook friends” do not all agree with my political or religious viewpoints, and as they are family or friends I do not want to offend them.
Therefore, in the beginning I posted very little. But it was heart warming to see my “Facebook Friends’’’” photographs—children or grandchildren on their first day of school, winning an award, celebrating a birthday, or graduating from high school. It was also interesting to see a house being remodeled, or to hear about “Facebook friends’” travels—Panama, Croatia, and Scandinavia are now on my list of places I must visit. When my bother, a professional photographer, posted photographs of what inspired him I was able to see what he saw, making the miles between us feel not so distant. And I learned more about friends and people in my extended family—that they hiked, attended concerts, and donated time to worthy causes. That part of social media added pleasure to my life.
What I did not like were the people who chose to use social media to belittle others, to whine about their family or friends, or to reduce complex personal situations into one-sided rants to further their personal vendetta. I promptly, and happily un-friended them! What to do with the people who presented their personal political agendas was more complicated. First of all it was tempting to “like” and “heart” the opinions, the causes, and the agendas I believe in. But I was also cognizant of how much I disliked opening my Facebook page and seeing political statements I did not agree with—opinions presented by family and friends who I care about and who also post photographs of their children and grandchildren that bring me great joy. It therefore was not so simple to un-friend them. After a while I made a decision that I would decide what to do based on each post, on what type of political statement they were making—and racists, sexist, and bigoted posts would never be acceptable no matter who made them!!!
Through this process of seeing what others were doing, and what I liked and did not like, I came up with the “face” I wanted to post on “Facebook”—I post about my travels, the museums I visit, when I remodel a room, and share what I do with family and friends, posting photographs I think others will enjoy. I NEVER post political statement or opinions; I NEVER post anything about religion; and I only “like” posts of a political nature if I believe they also communicate valuable information that is not of a political nature. That means my finger often hovers over the “like” symbol wanting to agree with political statements and opinions I strongly believe in—but I control the need to add my voice and with reluctance and resolve move on to the photograph of a darling baby sitting in a pumpkin patch.
[Postscript: While the face I present on Facebook has not changed, my Twitter persona reflects my uncensored political and religious views (although not often), as I believe that is where they should be expressed. The brevity of the medium makes it ideal, quantity qualifying the importance of opinions too often influenced by bias and prejudice.]
[Postscript to the Postscript: When I re-read the postscript I laughed at the statement that “my Twitter personal reflects my uncensored political and religious views.” Nothing I write is uncensored, because I chose to be a thoughtful, critical thinking person, which requires censoring—a practice I wish many other people would follow.]