So it hit me today. I got this email from an awesome parent of a wonderful teenager. And it turns out that this wonderful teenager is acting out. And this awesome parent is frustrated. Not a huge deal or a catastrophe, just the stuff of everyday life. Simultaneously, my smarter-than-me phone pinged a message that someone had commented on the picture I posted on Facebook – the one of my son helping his two year old sister this morning. It was a sweet moment, and I captured it on film and shared it with the world (as we are prone to do).
Here’s the thing. Twelve hours before I took that picture of my sweet kids, the two year old was in the midst of a 24 hour fit, and my son was grousing about a simple chore that was interrupting his video game. I was, in other words, in the same situation as this parent and her child. But you know what? I didn’t even think about taking a picture of that! Partly out of respect for my kids, perhaps, but partly because, in spite of what the Sprite commercials say, image is everything. I will add here that I didn’t take a picture of me as a parent in those situations either. I don’t want you to see me like that. I want you to see me through the eyes of perfection.
I remember staying up late one night helping my in laws tidy the house because their housekeeper was coming the next day. Even for me the irony was not lost. Likewise, I can think of people who I have seen posting all kinds of funny and cool stuff on Facebook or other social media, and I know from actually talking to them that things are pretty bad or dark in their lives. The image betrays the reality. I know there are exceptions, but often we don’t want people to see those parts of our lives. Now, maybe Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, etc. aren’t the places to do that sort of thing. But do they become the places where we push one another to only reflect beauty, happiness, and worst of all, perfection? Is there a kind of hidden competition, or a culture of creating envy? “Friend me, I’m better than you,” becomes a sort of undercurrent.
So what to do…Maybe part of it is posting a picture of your kitchen when it is at its messiest, and your homemade meal consisted of chicken nuggets and fries. Or simply, to be yourself. But I think it goes a bit deeper than that. If social media needed one, I would be an advocate. I love the ways I can connect with people, be creative, etc. But I have to remind myself again and again of its limitations and its trappings. I can create myself as I wish, I can project a false image, and I can pretend this is the complete way in which I will communicate (I have Facebooked my spouse in my own home – sheesh!). Those are pretty tempting siren songs in my quest to protect myself. But I can also realize that I need some face time (oops, that’s Apple), some hangout time (sorry, Google), or rather to reach out and touch someone (#@$%!, that’s old school Ma Bell). Wait a second, why do these slogans work so well? I’ll pause while you wonder with me…take your time…almost there…
Maybe the social media moguls know what we all know deeply inside – that we need contact with actual people, real contact, in-the-same-room-without-a-screen kind of contact. And while social media CAN help us connect and re-connect, invite and share, get info out quickly, and do all kinds of things we want; it cannot replace what we need. So friend me, because I need you, the real you.