My husband sent me a link to an interesting opinion piece in the New York Times, written in 2010, about Twitter and how it affects us and the way we interact with the world around us. There were many questions raised in the article. Raf was interested in the idea that Twitter, Facebook, and other social media encourages the commodification of self. My reading of the article touched on some thoughts I have had recently about social media: this idea that it takes us out of the present moment and causes us to experience that moment differently.
Orenstein makes an interesting observation that would seem to indicate that the act of tweeting a moment makes it clearer:
Distilling my personality provided surprising focus, making me feel stripped to my essence. It forced me, for instance, to pinpoint the dominant feeling as I sat outside with my daughter listening to E.B. White. Was it my joy at being a mother? Nostalgia for my own childhood summers? The pleasures of listening to the author’s quirky, underinflected voice? Each put a different spin on the occasion, of who I was within it.
However, she goes on to question that this distillation was less about her observation of the moment and more about how she wants others to react to her moment. Interesting thought. Do we build a facade with each tweet or Facebook status update? I think we do. Some of us more than others. And we all build that facade in different ways. For example, I get a little bit irritated by my friends who post a laundry list of all of the fabulous things they did that weekend. Because of this I try to “be more authentic” in my updates by posting both the good and the bad. But I am just as guilty as anyone else because my carefully constructed facade is about me “wanting to appear more authentic” than those who want to “appear to have fabulous lives.”
Then there is this idea that social media takes us out of the present moment. It has been something I have thought about a lot. The other day I was scanning my Instagram feed and saw a photo that a friend took of lunch out with a group of girlfriends. Two of her friends had their eyes glued to their smart phones. It made me think about myself and how often I do that very thing when I am hanging out with my own friends or my husband. Looking at this photo made me realize how this act of checking our phones to see what is happening on a website is kind of ridiculous. There is a person, a flesh and blood person, standing in front of me, interacting with me and I am looking at a machine so that I can connect with other people who are elsewhere.
This is not to say that the friends I have made online are very important to me and the time that I spend interacting with them online is important to me, as well. I have had some of my favorite moments interacting with my friends online. Everyday I am amazed at the the world we live in and that I can have these interactions with people from all over the world. It’s pretty fantastic and great.
However, there has to be some kind of balance. I shouldn’t sacrifice the moments I have with those in front of me for moments I have with my friends online.
When I went to Paris I couldn’t figure out how to make my phone work overseas. It was very frustrating because this meant my GPS didn’t work either. We spent a few moments wandering the streets not really knowing where we were going (we found an old-school street map as soon as we could). In the end, however, I am very glad I was cut off from social media there, at least during the day (we had wi-fi access at our hotel). I was prevented from tweeting every single thought in my head. Instead I was riveted to every moment I experienced there. This was a new and faraway place and I am not sure I will ever be able to go back. I knew this while I was there and so I made the most out of all of it. Everything I did there was totally in the moment. I experienced the crap out of Paris. I remember everything with clarity. If my smart phone was working and tempting me to tweet these moments, would I still have this same clarity? I don’t think I would.