We ask “how are you?” but we hold our breaths after, for fear someone will say something that would require us to give them attention. We don’t have any, it’s all used up for our needs. God forbid someone follows up with “I’m worried about my son”, “I just came back from the doctor and it’s not good news”. There are exceptions, of course, supportive spouses, some mothers/fathers with their children, some very good and, oh so rare, dear friends.
But try to tell a story about something dear to your heart and 8 times out of 10, the person in front of you will, within 15 seconds, change the subject or jump in with a story about themselves. “You might feel good about giving a speech at a wedding, but I sang a song at a wedding, it was a great song and the bride was overwhelmed with great emotion.” They don’t really come out and say it, or mean to belittle what you think is a nice achievement. You look into their eyes and they’re just desperate to share a story about a time when they did good. Probably because they haven’t been listened to either. “You sang a song at a wedding? Well I organized and paid for my son’s wedding, and he loved it, there were flamingos, and an open bar and…” That’s OK, no one cares about hearing their story either.
But Facebook does, and probably Instagram and Pinterest (not sure because I don’t use them but I assume). And there, acquaintances and friends of friends with 15 seconds to spare will “like” what you do or even, if they don’t mind the litany of following notifications, spend 5 seconds writing an encouraging post. Your birthday date is on Facebook? Tons of wishes guaranteed; way more than you would get in real life without it.
I am part of an online community. (It sounds much warmer than the actual fact of having registered to a message board years ago, don’t you think?) Every day I see people asking for help there, or taking the time to write a post about a troubling experience they’ve had. More often than not, depending on the popularity of a poster, dozens of people reply with suggestions, recommendations, advice, and/or actual physical help if they live nearby. People bravely discuss their mental health difficulties, deaths in their family, social etiquette, etc. And people “listen”. They take 20, 30 minutes, sometimes hours to get back with a proper response, sometimes snarky (if the poster warrants it) but more often than not, filled with empathy. I’ve done it myself. Why? Anonymity of course makes it easier to share sensitive information than to discuss it with work colleagues or a mommy and me peer. Because you have a greater sample of individuals for sure, but also because the community “listens” way more than most people you come across in real life. These are not mean people, just people preoccupied with their own pain and challenges from the relentless pace of life.
So does social media pull us away from real life or does real life push us towards social media? I bet the latter.