During my high school graduation ceremony, the principal on multiple occasions remarked that the graduating class would never be in the same room together again. It was an odd statement. It was not only the last time we would be in a room together, but it was the first time we had ever been in a room together! Moreover, when your graduating class has over 500 students in it, it’s not as if it’s a close-knit family. I’m sure there was a sizable percentage of students I graduated with that I did not know, or recognize for that matter.
I’m sure not a single classmate has bemoaned the fact that the entire graduating class can’t be back together again. Then again, I guess I need to give my high school principal a little slack; surely he could not have envisioned how easy it would become, in just a few years, to stay in touch with almost everyone you’ve ever met in your life.
Staying in touch has never been easier. Sitting on your couch wondering what happened to your pal from 4th grade? You can probably find out in less than 5 minutes. Technology allows us to stay in touch with speed and ease, but that very ease begs the question: why stay in touch? Once our voyeuristic curiosity is settled and we learn that our 4th grade pal sells insurance in Kansas City, we’re quickly reminded there’s a reason we needed Facebook to learn about his life now: we are not close. We haven’t been close for decades. We will never be close again. Our lives stopped intersecting in elementary school. Sure, you can send that awkward “hello” message, but what will you talk about? What’s going to rekindle this relationship that barely existed in the first place?
The ease of social media to stay in touch has a bigger pitfall: it’s not a real relationship. To a very large extent, social media (like writing one’s own blog) is an exercise in vanity. We want to be seen by people. We crave the acknowledgment. The validation. The acceptance. The Likes. It’s one thing to share that cute photo with your great-aunt, it’s another to think all 289 Facebook friends really care. (Hint: they don’t) (Double hint: you don’t have 289 friends). It’s not an equal footing, a dialogue, a shared experience. Sure, you can “Like” or comment, but, at bottom, it’s bits and bytes and really not much more.
Relationships, no matter the relationship, aren’t easy. You can’t “friend and forget” — a phrase I’m definitely trademarking. They take time, energy, and intention. It takes the willingness to listen, to care, to make something not about you. To genuinely invest in and care about a life experience other than your own for no other reason than love. We shouldn’t confuse the ease of social media for the real thing.
Our inner circles are delicate, intimate things, and whom we choose to inhabit that space is no small question. And, the more time we spend tending those real relationships, the less time we have for social media…and the less interest we have in it too.