Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Chick Pic

A good friend of mine, an odd sort of fella who may or may not be a Dentist but very likely could be a Survivalist/Sasquatch Hunter/Herb farmer in Utah recently made a comment on some friend’s photo where they had all gone away on a “Girls Weekend.” He said he thought it was great that they all still hung around together and it’s the exact same thought that popped into my head when I saw the picture. Sure, it’s quite possible they were all women who said friend was actually having some sort of fantasy that involved them all but felt the innocuous comment was better suited for the Facebook universe, but whatever the intent it was a great observation and got me thinking nostalgically and how these relationships tie in with social media.

Facebook and social media have always been an easy target, often attacked for their role in “disconnecting” us all from real relationships, intimacy and communication. I have written about it in the past but something about seeing my friends’ comment and the picture of the girls got me thinking about it in more detail and from a different perspective. The argument has been for quite some time: Sites like Facebook and Twitter and the texting generation have caused us to become more reclusive, detached and isolated from others. That we “communicate” in quick little blurbs, often abstract and irrelevant and selfish in nature. While there is no doubt that much of what’s posted on these sites has its origins in our own desire and/or need to talk about ourselves and our accomplishments, I don’t think all of Social Media can be summarized and defined by this. Sure, Twitter is a 164 character announcement to the world about what we care about, think, desire, worship, laugh at or possess but it also serves as a way to connect to others all over the globe, and like any tool, it’s what you do with it that defines its purpose rather than its mere existence.

Looking at the picture, I immediately thought about how cool it was that these friends still spent time together as women in their forties, all with lives, many with children and busy schedules and very demanding jobs. Much of it can be credited to small town life and the personalities of those pictured, though a very small part of it may just be attributable to places like Facebook and technologies such as texting. Why? Our lives are busier these days, for a variety of reasons, and staying in touch with everyone we know and like, especially via long phone conversations would be difficult if not impossible. A place like Facebook allows us to stay connected, via pictures, short commentary and discussion and do it on a schedule that works for us. The same can be said for texting, because although it’s not as personal as hearing someone’s voice, it also shields us from screaming kids, amplifies low talkers, dampens loud talkers and allows us to share and receive more succinct information than the average phone call. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy talking to those I care for, hearing the nuances of their personality that can’t be absorbed and enjoyed through digital images, but sometimes the mental energy just isn’t available for such endeavors, and I fully expect that many who are fond of me feel the same way; I can be a bit if a handful in a conversation sometimes. (#RealTalk)

So, back to the girls and the photo…I understand it’s entirely possible that, had Facebook never been created and were texting never an option, that these ladies may still be friendly with one another, but what about those not in the picture? When I see a picture like that-which is something were it not for Facebook I likely never would-it makes me think about those people. The relationships I have had with them, their distinct personalities, our adolescent past and memories and the possibility of new memories as future gatherings and parties are planned. Those of us who see a picture like that and find it “cool that you guys still hang out” have the choice to either let it be a passing feel good moment or to let it inspire us to make connections with those people, and others. Sometimes that connection may start in the virtual world, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, especially if somewhere down the road it leads to real life interactions.

I love the small town where I grew up, and I am very thankful to my mother for helping us stay rooted there through High School and beyond, and many of the people I met there were incredibly gracious to me as a Newbie back in the mid-eighties. When a strange, lanky Ronald McDonald looking thing with parachute pants and an Iron Maiden shirt comes to town, it’s totally understandable that he may be not only be ignored but possibly tortured even,  yet in my case I was slowly and cautiously accepted. In the beginning, by a pseudo-professional bowler named Mike and a senior named Lance who knew more about Heavy Metal than me and took me under his wing as an acne-faced Ginger with no friends. As my confidence grew (for reasons unknown, especially considering my evolving red mullet and shabby Freshman year attire) I eventually started tormenting (stalking) my friends Nicole, Kelly and Debbie and by Sophomore year, at a football game behind Suffield Academy, I was beginning to build a great group of friends that have continued to be annoyed by me to this day! Chris Roberts alone has given me the “Dude, seriously what the fuck is wrong with you?” look at least seventeen hundred times since the mid -eighties.

I am not always the greatest at making time for everyone I care for in my life, and it continues to be something I strive to improve upon. What I love about Facebook and the like is that I can still stay connected on some level and see what’s happening with those who are important to me even if I am not physically able to hang with them in person, which in some cases means, yes, that I am sitting on the couch in my boxers listening to some fucking band you never heard of and eating Dove Dark chocolate squares. I have never been an “isolator” though, and with the amazing girlfriend I have now I wouldn’t want to be-I love experience real life and social interaction and so does she-as there is so much pleasure to be had by being with the ones you love and can laugh with. Whatever our reasons for using Facebook or choosing to text someone versus making that phone call or posting “I really love Pancakes” on Twitter are our own, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Many of those I know are also more introverted and they enjoy the kind of interaction and connectivity these social media platforms allow them to have, without the discomfort of their socially awkward nature making itself known to the masses. Human beings are social by nature, but we aren’t all wired to interact socially the same way, so whatever methodology we choose to employ to keep us in touch is fine as long as we are being honest with ourselves.

I realize that places like Facebook also highlight some of the uglier aspects of human nature as well, and it’s very easy to bloviate and rage and complain, but one could argue it’s a lot easier to ignore these things within the virtual realm than were this to be happening in person with someone. We have all experienced those moments (most likely those of you reading this with me as the offender. Oops) where a group of us are together and one or more of us is annoying the piss out of the rest and there’s that awkward way we try to change the subject or leave the room or just tell them to shut the hell up. At least with Social media we can quickly click our way free or log out for good. Imagine the pleasure in having the ability to shut up your drunken friend telling you that we never really landed on the moon or that Ron Paul is really the only good politician? Beautiful.

I think there’s a great balance being struck by most of us out there. A harmonious relationship between real and virtual worlds that feed our need to be interactive with one another while also allowing us to have the requisite space we crave to feel comfortable and in control. I can be a bit of a loner, much like my father, and I love that part of myself but I also enjoy the company of others greatly so social media has actually been a technology that’s served me well. Like the girls in the photo, I relish those times with my friends in the real world though so I try to remind myself daily that life is finite and that friends and family are what make our lives rich and complex and meaningful and in order to nurture these relationships we have to feed them in person and not just in bytes.

Like so many aspects of my life, I’m working on it 


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