Do you keep a count of your social media friends? How about people who are in your Google+ circles? Of those people how many have you met and/or spent any actual time with? Have you seen any of them in the last six months? While there are people who ‘collect’ social connections we often ‘friend’ people out of obligation (family); an attempt to reconnect (high school, college, or work friends); out of admiration or appreciation of their work (singers and musicians, writers, artists, corporate/religious/political leaders). If you look at your social network of friends you’ll likely find people you haven’t even met.
So when you interact online how many of those people really know you?
I’ve been thinking about this a great deal this week. I found out on Monday that a 26-year-old friend of a friend (in person friend) had committed suicide. She had lots of social network friends and if you saw her smiling face in the hundreds of pictures in her Facebook albums you would think she was free-spirited, untroubled, and full of joy. This intelligent young lady graduated college magna cum laude and created her own business. From all appearances she was very healthy and happy. But her death was an unforeseen event that stunned her friends and family members.
We share on Facebook but reveal only what we choose. If you look at your posts (and those of friends) many are simply positive-feel-good updates – praise for public success, the birth of grandchildren, music we love, or travels we embark upon. The addition of social networking has made it possible to create a façade (or avatar) beyond what we might normally be able to accomplish in person. Shared insights are controlled and contrived to present the best side of ourselves. In our personal lives very few people are privy to our inner secrets, desires, and fears. We create our ‘perfect’ world in the ‘cloud’ while struggling with broken relationships, health issues, deep sadness, or failing careers.
Perhaps the most telling commentary on our ‘social’ lives is that this lovely young lady chose to say good-bye through a picture on her Facebook page. She took the picture a few hours before her death with her own cell phone and commented with the sound of a good-bye kiss. Only no one knew it was truly good-bye.
I’m not advocating we bare our souls in public. I just want to prompt a larger conversation hoping we will all be more aware of our actual isolation in what seems to be a social atmosphere. As a result, perhaps we will pick up the phone and talk to a friend, meet for coffee, or get to know our neighbors.
I’ve begun to think of our lives as a stone being skipped across a large body of water with each time we touch the water as the moments where we truly connect. The ripples created through these connections generate energy and reactions that may provide significant influence. But for those of us who’ve skipped rocks on a lake or pond we know that most of the time the stone is in the air and each subsequent touchdown creates ever-smaller traces until at last the stone sinks below the surface never to rise again.
My hope is that the times I have skimmed the water the impacts have been real, positive, and meaningful. We do impact each others’ lives. We need the close friends and loved ones we can call or turn to in the middle of the night when life seems too heavy. We need to believe that what we do matters and that people in our lives really care. But, as this sad instance shows, today the vast majority of social media patrons use it as an escape and souls shouting for help are often hidden behind a smile……or an avatar.