I was 14 years old and my mom finally let me sign up for my own AOL account. Suddenly a whole new world of socialization was opened up to me! I could actually TALK to people I was way too scared to talk to in person. I had so many “friends” who I knew better by screenname than I did by their actual name. One in particular was A Musolini, a boy who never talked to me at school but we would spend hours chatting online.
Eventually our relationship moved to the next level when by the grace of my freshman English teacher we ended up with our desks next to each other. It was my last class of the day and it made every morning worth getting up for. Sometimes we exchanged actual words, but regardless I knew as soon as I got home and heard the sound of the dial up modem, we would be besties (a word I wish didn’t exist, much like selfies, totes–as in totally– and hashtag).
This went on for months and by the start of the next school year he had a girlfriend. I was heartbroken as I was sure our online relationship counted as dating. It was at this point that I got my first taste of social media fiction when he promised me ONLINE that he was going to break up with his new girlfriend for me. Of course this didn’t happen but when we finally hung out OFF the internet for the first time, the rumors quickly spread that I was a home wrecker who would do anything to get what I wanted. Apparently, reality and my perception of it via instant message were two very different things.
I have many MANY stories to contribute to my theory of why social media, and its ability to embellish the truth, is the root of the destruction of interpersonal relationships. I even wrote a 10 page research paper on this during college before Facebook was even popular, when Twitter was just another word for ignorant rambling, when the only way to share pictures was to take your roll of 35 mm film to Walmart for printing.
I have however realized that I communicate much better through written word than verbally (a talent I inherited from my mom, who inherited it from her mom). Not to mention my typing speed of over 100 wpm is astounding. It’s gotten to the point that I’m constantly editing my own thoughts before they come out of my mouth, trying to make them sound as original and interesting as possible, while also sounding natural and not rehearsed. Many times after I say something outloud I think “Oh man, I should have saved that one for a Facebook status! Now it won’t sound as clever because its old news.” I stand in the shower and each thought has to go through revision to be social network ready.
If everyone else is as OCD as I am about how their thoughts come across in writing, its no wonder that depression and anxiety rates have risen drastically since the onset of social media. I have a friend whose husband works as a PA in an office that specializes in mental health. He says that the majority of his patients when asked if and how often they spend time on social networking sites respond that it is their primary source of socialization. Realizing that these patients who struggle with severe chronic mental health conditions are also socially isolated, one of their fundamental sources of treatment is to minimize or eliminate their use of such devices.
Like many teens in the 90’s, and most likely every decade before and since, I idolized certain celebrities. I dreamed about meeting them and went through the conversations we would have in my head. But they were untouchable and unreal to me; of course these dreams would never come true. That was okay with me and not at all a source of self-deprecation. Now, not only can you more or less communicate with your favorite, untouchable celebrities, but its as if every normal person on the Earth can put themselves in an idyllic and praiseworthy position. That is what everyone seems to reach for with every status update or youtube post. Now we not only have famous people to be jealous of, but hundreds of “friends” posting pictures of their perfect families, vacations, and accomplishments.
I am no exception. Each time I post to this blog or anywhere else, I hope that somehow this will be my big viral break. There are plenty of people just like me who started out as stay at home moms and then ended up on Oprah or Jimmy Kimmel/Fallon or the YouTube awards, whether it was for their musical talent, writing capabilities, or something their dog can do.
The interesting thing, and why I say this has all changed so much of the way I think, is that I have been writing in a journal since I was in 5th grade. Almost religiously. I keep a box full of all my old diaries on the highest shelf in my closet collecting dust. No one has read them and probably never will. But I wrote the same way and the same kinds of things that I’m writing now for all to see. I also have a row of large photo albums and scrapbooks on that same shelf full of pictures from the first time I got a camera til the last time I developed film. So why does it make a difference now how many people see and respond to these things?
Maybe we like who people think we are on Twitter better. And if our perception of reality really becomes our own reality, then as long as people “like” us, I guess we are liked.