Trying to imagine life without social media

I tried to recall life without social media. Wasn’t it just a few years ago when I walked around without a portable device strapped to my waist, a device willing to announce my every grunt, burp and fart to the external world, if I only let it?

Without social media, my concentration would improve, that much I am sure. I would not be constantly interrupting my daily chores to go check that infernal device for the latest chat or inspirational message. My self esteem would mature for I would not have those “likes” to prop me up but would have to “like” myself instead. I could spend many hours with just me and my thoughts and reap the inspiration that comes from a stilled mind. I would not suffer from “too much information,” a syndrome that makes you skim the surface of everything, just to cope, and miss some of the major issues in the process. I will get to talk to people instead of sending them written messages even when they are in the next room. Friendships will be few but more lasting and not something to be activated and deactivated with the push of a button.

On the other hand, I wouldn’t be “famous but poor” anymore. Instead, I would be “unknown and still poor.” I wouldn’t get to play closet politician anymore for my audience will have disappeared. I’ll have to stand up in my little room and declaim, to myself. Or join a political party and schmooze my way to the top over a number of years, not in mere days that it took me in the social media world. I would not have a test market for my writing. I would not be connected to the pulse of my peers, forever unplugged from their thoughts, drives, fetishes and joys. I would not be let into their living rooms, introduced to their families, invited as a virtual guest to their parties, or exposed to their embarrassing moments when they suffered mental or wardrobe malfunction and decided to share (or bare) all via the instant photos uploaded to my “stream.” Yes, I would have to kiss goodbye to my voyeuristic but engaged life.

Someone recently told me that “there is no going back.” We seem to have crossed a threshold into a new pattern of social behaviour that is irreversible. And I am not sure we are unique in that respect. Did people go back on their old habits when new inventions collided with their social lives in the past: the telephone, the TV, the car, the supermarket, the microwave, and canned food? Digitization and sharing has now replaced the communal life of the village where everybody knows everything about everyone else. Even the anonymity of cities—something I used to love to escape to occasionally—is breaking down under the new rules of conduct, where city dwellers cooped up in glass towers and matchbox condos, ostensibly isolated, are connecting with each other like never before.

Okay, so there is no going back, we are the social media generation, suck it up and get on with it. But there needs to be some “information firewall behaviour” called for; the confidence to switch on and off when needed, without the pressure to be “always on” in order to be relevant, despite Facebook and Twitter sending you those “How are you doing?” messages when you are minding your own business, or Klout warning you that your score is dropping because you have been silent for awhile. Taking social media•less vacations is a good idea, and retreats from “always on” to just read a book is also good for the soul. And most importantly, selfishly carving out time for contemplation and meditation is paramount.

Okay, now that I’ve got that off my chest, where did leave my Blackberry…? There really is no going back, is there?

Lessons on Social Media From Two Guys on the Subway

I overheard these two guys, Jim and Sam, talking on the subway.
Jim: You’ve been on this social media kick for some time now. Is it working for you?
Sam: Sure is, man. I’d be resenting talking to you right now if my iPad was getting a signal in this tunnel.
Jim: I know, “Google it,” has killed asking a question and starting a conversation. The woman I last dated couldn’t keep her hands off her Blackberry. I finally got up and left midway during dinner and she didn’t even look up from her Facebook chat.
Sam: That FB thing is a bit overrated, especially if you are trying to sell something. It’s like preaching to the choir – “The Mutual Admiration Society” I call it. Everyone is shouting “Like me, like me.” I get on only to post snarky comments about us little guys getting screwed by the big guys. Saves me from going to a shrink. It’s also a great place for tree huggers and plagiarists.
Jim: Why do you say that?
Sam: Well, the tree huggers are always talking spiritual things, about love and kindness and God and stuff when we know that there is very little of that around. They are hoping against hope, and I find that re•assuring. It tells me that at least someone hasn’t given up. And the plagiarists are cutting news clips from other sources and commenting on them as if they were their own material – who are they kidding?
Jim: What do you post?
Sam: Well, I started with posting diatribes of all that was not going well in the world: the rise of the right wing, the greed of the One Percent, unjust wars and stuff, and I found that no one was reading. No one had time. And no one really gave a damn. Here are my findings: the 140 byte tweet can get around to thousands, if it’s catchy, and if you take the 2% response rule from the direct mail world, you may get 200 to 300 people who will actually read your tweet. A 150•word article (diatribe, in my case) will get about 100 close followers reading you. After that, and the longer the word count gets, readers tail off dramatically. Never publish your novel on there – everyone will download it, but none will read it. Now, my focus is on creating pseudo accounts for myself and writing glowing reviews of my books.
Jim: Is the material you publish online, safe?
Sam: Heck, no! And don’t bother asserting your copyright with bold announcements – it looks good but it doesn’t work. A website will use your material the way it sees fit. The good news is that on “member sites” like FB, Twitter and such, your post gets swallowed up in the news feed within minutes. Chances are, you will never be noticed, unless you post an obscene photo and go viral. If you want to be immortal in cyberspace, post your stuff on open websites and make sure your material is optimized for the search engines, and be controversial. Controversial sells. I find stuff I posted in the public domain years ago are still showing up when I Google myself. I can’t even find my FB feeds from last month.
Jim: So why are you still at it?
Sam: Because, social media is the best damned water cooler chat line given to us workers who have been steadily relegated to solitary, insignificant cube•dom. I would die if I am unable to take a regular time•out at work and join my fraternity of online pals looking desperately for a “like” or an acknowledgement to say that what they had just written or plagiarised made sense. It’s a form of online hugging.

It was at this point that Jim and Sam got off at the next station. Or did I get off at that station? I can’t remember, the conversation was so engrossing! Come to think of it, did those two guys really exist, or was I dreaming the whole thing up? Oh well, I’ll be on the subway tomorrow too and if those fellas show up having a similar conversation, I will know!