How to win friends and lose real people

JessicaGale, morgueFile, http://mrg.bz/tH1mBC

Yesterday as I worked on a new writing project — which looked a lot like eating butter cream frosting while scrolling through my Facebook feed — I had an epiphany: We “Like” to believe a “Share” is a “Comment” on our value.

After holding out on the social media craze for as long as possible, I finally accepted the mark of the Facebook beast. Now everyone knows: I had a colonoscopy in December; I want an open bar while bathing suit shopping; I would give a hamster one of my kidneys to keep her off dialysis.

What is wrong with us that we feel the need to share such personal…dare I say…stupid information? Are we really that desperate for affirmation?

Perhaps the genesis of this problem is found in a related aspect to the topic I discussed in my manna post. Not only do we assume more bread means a better life, but now the more buzz you can generate about yourself…meaning the more people you have hovering around your social media accounts, the better.

In 1984, there was a show called “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.” Each week host Robin Leach gave us a peek inside the secret, lavish lives of the world’s upper crust. The outrageous cars, hotel rooms, wines, meals — and especially the entourages — left us condemning with one eye and coveting with the other. But without a hit song or blockbuster movie, there was no way for us poor and obscure folks to emulate their better life of social frenzy.

Now with the advances(?) in technology, mere mortals can create platforms for attention without the aid of Robin Leach. The old comparison game has found a new way to play with our psyches on the Internet. Jimmy Fallon, Kanye, and Taylor Swift have millions of followers who hang on their every word. That must mean if I can get people to follow me I am valuable, right?

The sad truth is, having hundreds of virtual friends can still leave you feeling really lonely. My feed is full of people sharing stories of personal pain — to no one in particular. Likes and comments from a circle of cyber cronies is certainly a nice gesture, but it can’t take the place of bearing your soul to a live friend.

I know this will sound wacky, but people used to sit together…in the same room…and discuss politics, religion, ideas, fears, hopes, and dreams. Sure, engaging in this primitive behavior on a consistent basis would eventually lead to awkward pauses, social mis-steps, and bone-headed comments. But it was also the place where true connection happened.

Bonding occurs over tears, laughs, hurt feelings, apologies, and shared heartburn from greasy burgers.

Today on social media we can measure and select our words carefully to appear more well-spoken, well-mannered, and well-meaning than we might if our thoughts were to spill out unfiltered in a real-time conversation. Polished versions of ourselves are much more palatable. However, what we gain in self-preservation, cowering behind our impressive Internet presence, we lose in intimacy without live interactions. We fatten up our alter ego while our true selves starve for authentic acceptance.

I get it. It’s scary to make a phone call or visit with someone in person. It’s far safer hiding behind the online curtain of pseudo-transparency. But many people are swapping flesh and blood relationships for likes and shares from virtual strangers. Quantity over quality is king.

Please don’t peg me a total hater. I’m all for prancing baby goat videos, family vacation photos, and “Designing Women” personality tests (even if it did tell me the woman I’m most like is Meshach Taylor).

I understand and appreciate the practical applications of social media. I get the irony that you are probably only reading this because I am on Facebook and Twitter. Many jobs today (including writer) are tied to having a large social media footprint. This has me walking my size 10 on the tightrope toward career success across the terrifying chasm of self-absorption.

In the end, I’m a social media sucker like the rest of you. I am mesmerized by the beautiful people who are surrounded by lots other beautiful people. Part of me feels envious of their pictures of a $2,800 rib eye paired with a $3,000 bottle of wine. But another part of me knows better.

First, if I am paying that much for beef, it had better be a talking cow whose last words are, “I’m from the future and the Powerball numbers for tomorrow are….”

Second, social media is changing the economy of our self-worth with regard to personal relationships. Maybe the picture of the pricey rib eye will garner 63k “Likes” and 36k “Comments.” But I guarantee my stomach and relational tank will be a lot fuller if I “Share” a cheap burger with one close friend on the patio of Sundown Tavern.