As I prepare for a semester abroad I am thankful for social media. Facebook, Facetime, Snapchat, all of these tools will allow me to have some sense of home while I am abroad. My thought process then becomes “so long as I have wifi, I’ll be fine.” But what about when its purpose is not to bridge the gaps over seemingly endless amounts of space? What about when you are sitting in your living room with roommates or family and instead of talking to them, your eyes are glued to your phone, tablet or computer screen? While social media can be beneficial some of the time — in some instances, more often than not — it becomes a burden in our lives, distracting us from what sits in front of our eyes.
We are granted security when responding to a message because we can change what we say, we can think before we hit the enter key so we miss out on traditional communication — filled with error as it may be. We are caught between two distinct worlds: the online world, which is carefully and artfully designed by us as creators of our web personas, and the real world which sees more error, intimacy and true connection. We are moving further and further into the online world, losing our true sense of self and more importantly losing the desire to communicate in person
Like I said, having these technologies is going to be fantastic for me as I leave for Australia in January. This online world will allow me to easily communicate with my friends and family or even have a slightly more personal connection thanks to Facetime and Skype. However, something that cannot be forgotten is the stories I will be relaying to my family and friends. The stories I choose to tell them. When I (undoubtedly) speak to my mother on a daily basis, will I tell her of the morning traffic jams on the way to my classes? Or will I tell her about the cultural difference I witnessed in the cafeteria? Most likely I will share the latter, unless it was a really dull day or I happen to be in a satirical mood. Of course this may not be a bad thing, who wants to engage in such a boring mundane conversation?
But perhaps if I was sitting with my family for a longer conversation I might happen to complain about the traffic, and my family would have a more complete picture of what my day looked like, mundane or not. These conversations will no doubt be quick catch-ups due to the time difference and the fact that my mother and I both keep busy schedules and so consciously or unconsciously we will come up with temporary personas. I know that personally, while I may suffer major anxiety being on my own so far from home at points, I will likely hide this from my mother to prevent her from worrying about me. When speaking to my friends and family back home I will be overtly conscious about what I am presenting them with, or rather, who I am presenting myself as, and how they are interpreting that created version of myself.
We can be anyone we want online, and put on different personas to converse with different people — in some sense we can become entirely different people. I believe this to be especially true on Facebook, where so many political discussions and arguments can take place. I know when I engage in these conversations I often: type a response, backspace, type something different, backspace again, quickly fact check and finally hit enter on my argument, satisfied with what I have come up with. Out in the real world, “deleting” that first thought isn’t an option. In the real world when and if you engage in such conversation, you say what you think first, and while you may be able to expand or clarify something, whatever you initially said, it is out there. And perhaps this is why we shy away from engaging in these conversations in the real world. The online world allows us some amount of protection, that delete button has become a security blanket for a great many of us, one we are not quite willing to part with in the real world. As such we lose some amount of candor in the way we speak, as we have this constant ability to always filter ourselves.
So where do we draw the line between having real and honest relationships with people and knowing where to draw the line between our real world self and our online self/selves? It is certainly a difficult line to draw and I picture it as a wavy line with various low and high points. When I am abroad I will be projecting a certain image of myself, and I will likely post just the highlights of my trip. I believe the issue begins when our online self overpowers our real self, when more people know and believe in our online self than do know our true selves. I believe Facebook, and other social media tools, become our enemies when we sit in a room with other people and choose to use our devices instead of engaging in conversation. I believe it becomes problematic when we have to fill our alone time with technology because there is no deep thought taking place within us. Technology can certainly be beneficial in various circumstances, but when it is our leading way of communicating with those around us, and when our online self combats our true self it becomes more foe than friend.