Friday, December 27, 2013

Social Media Emptiness Conundrum

A friend of mine recently posted her confession on one of her addictions (Dr. Pepper) which was insightful and humorous. It caused me to think more of my personal struggles, addictions, tendencies and areas I need to improve. One of these areas is vanity and the need to be recognized. Most people wouldn't necessarily look at me, watch my behaviors and say, "Woah, he's so vain." But those that truly understand what lies beneath probably know that the song is truly about me. Vanity is one form of narcissism and social media plays to my weakness like a lone xylophone street player hoping for a tip.

I had a conversation with a trusted friend a few months back about Facebook and his level of engagement. For the most part he admits to being a "lurker," someone who just stays in the shadows, enjoys, or not, the collective posts streaming through his feed but interacts very little. He made a critical statement about "likers," those that will like just about anything but have very little to say themselves. I thought about his evaluation and could see I would at times passively do the same but realized I like to engage as well. So it got me thinking about what kind of social media persona I have and for what purpose.

I'm an early adopter, at least with Facebook and Twitter. Instagram as well. I converted from blogging to the micro format early and at first couldn't really see the point. Twitter was a great open forum for sharing anything, retweeting interesting content that fit my agenda and allowed me to express to the world what I felt was important. I quickly found that few people were interested in actually following my account which made the content virtually powerless and certainly less gratifying for my inner narcissism. Facebook allowed me to cultivate a large set of connections but with whom I also felt somewhat disconnected, giving and receiving likes and micro thoughts along with some life events via pics and videos. Insta has been a great forum for selfies, the epitome of vanity, but also for sharing great, low quality pics and vids.

But what of all of these forums and our ability to put ourselves out there, raw and unadulterated. Well, we hide behind what we want others to perceive about us. For example, I'm notorious for cross-eyed selfies as it's easier to just look goofy rather than try to look handsome and come up naturally short. While some put themselves out for all to mock and wonder, others withdraw and hid behind what they truly feel or think, limiting responses to abbreviations, txt speech and smiley faces.

What some find of value is also not what we may find valuable. generates a short video clip you can post to Instagram/Facebook of your top curator pics based on the number of likes they received on Instagram. What I valued on my own account was not what others liked and therefore the generated video, to me, was not worthy to publish. My own perception about what others like just doesn't groove with what is in my own box of self worth.

Similarly, for all our need to become more connected in our behaviors, social media tends to have the opposite effect. How many times have I caught myself with my device open, checking the notifications on a post (whether my own or one I'm engaged on), sitting right next to my wife, my kids or others, laughing, snorting, smiling but completely lost in my own bubble. While I crave personal connections, I find that those with whom I desire to connect on a deeper level become less and less close and statistically become like conveyors and share vehicles. The art of deep, soulful communications are being replaced with simplistic and shocking content meant to induce likes, thumbs-ups and retweets.

The emptiness of which I write is not limited to just social media, but cross the boundaries of all digital media, including TV, movies, internet usage, games and handheld device driven content. Anything that can prevent us from directly communicating on a personal level limits our ability to feel, grow and develop connections that have meaning and value.

Elder David A. Bednar spoke on this very topic. Here's a snippet.

So that is where I am stuck: a world of simplistic likes and smiley faces with little substance. I try to engage people in meaningful dialogs but it's truly a difficult conundrum to draw people out beyond their own social narcissism. Often I'll ask questions about things that are non-threatening, uplifting and that allow others to engage, hoping that the same question of which I ask will be asked by someone in return. Example: what are your Christmas Eve traditions? People enjoy answering, contributing but few are concerned with what others think or feel. Most responses are very self-centered which is mostly fine. It just ultimately leaves me with the same emptiness I felt when I started the post, hoping to alleviate it for a time.

So how do you find a meaningful outlet that allows you to connect with others, express yourself and feel in a deep manner without being compelled to hide behind a persona? I would suggest the following:

  • family time - take time to talk, listen, relate, interact. The time should be devoid of distractions and should not feel constrained by time or agenda.
  • friend time - take time to gather as friends and have fun. The truest of friends will listen, share, relate and connect in meaningful ways that help you to understand more of who you are and who you can become. Choose your friends wisely because connections can be created and destroyed too easily. The depth of a friendship can be directly correlated to the lasting power and meaningful association.
  • church time - social connections can be meaningful in a church social setting. Friendships and associations are based upon the same value structure and will help engender connections that are lasting and non-trivial.
  • God time - the One with whom we should look to build our firmest of foundations is God. He waits for us to call to Him, poke Him, like His Word and comment back and forth via prayer. The heavenly connection that He provides is the truest and deepest of all relationships we can form and will fill the void where otherwise we may feel empty.
So, while I likely won't be curbing my incessant need to like and be liked, to comment and have comments, and to connect where connections are devoid, I'm trying to keep a balanced perspective on why I interact the way I do and choose the depth of my connections more wisely. For those looking to connect a little deeper, give some of the above a try. And if all else fails, leave a comment. I'm sure to respond - with at least a smiley face ;)
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