Sometimes there is wonder in not knowing and in speculating – social media kills this wonder without remorse.
For the last two weeks I have been living and working in London, one of the most diverse and exciting cities in the world. Even in such a brief period, I have been fortunate enough to meet some genuinely really interesting and inspiring people.
Somewhat accidentally, I have avoided becoming ‘friends’ with most of them on Facebook, or any other form of social media. Not because I have no interest in talking with any of them further, I have exchanged numbers with them, but because a strange sense of nostalgia has hit me after not pinging off ‘friend requests’ left, right and centre.
Before the days of social media, it was nigh on impossible to stay in touch with every person you met, but with the advent of Facebook and Twitter and sites like them, it is now entirely possible, easy in fact, to become ‘friends’ with or ‘follow’ anyone you meet, even those with whom you have the briefest of encounters.
A trend has arisen over the last decade or so, of playing the ‘numbers game’, i.e. gaining as many friends/followers as possible. Having a high number shows a superior level of social status, of popularity, to the extent that a sub-culture of celebrity has formed consisting purely of people who are Internet famous.
As such, people (and I’ve been guilty of this myself) have begun adding everyone they meet, even people they have no intention of talking to again.
The result is that your friend list becomes populated by people you don’t really know; people you had a five-minute, drunken conversation with at a party, people who you can’t recall meeting, or even people you actively dislike.
When this happens, social media becomes a chore. An inane task of scrolling through countless posts by people you aren’t interested in, rather than a way to see what’s happening in the lives of people you actually care about.
Previously, staying in touch with friends, and people you met, required greater effort. You’d have to pick up the phone, or send a text or email, or write a letter etc. Now, and I’m not saying this is a strictly bad thing, you can contact anyone you’re friends with on social media at the touch of a button.
Clearly this is stupendously more convenient, but does this devalue our relationships with each other? Does this knowledge foster complacency?
When more effort was required to stay in touch, it in a way, showed the importance of your relationship with other people. An out-of-the-blue phone call from someone wanting to see how you’re doing and what’s going on in your life feels in some way more meaningful than a message that took mere seconds to type and send.
Equally, because of the greater effort needed, the list of people you stayed in touch with was more refined; you only stayed in touch with the people you were willing to make that effort to stay in touch with – and were relationships stronger because of this?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-social media, and in many ways it’s an extremely beneficial and positive tool in modern life. I have for instance, good friends that I’ve met travelling, who live all over the world, who without social media, I would likely never have heard from again.
Now I get to see what they’re doing with their lives, and keep in touch and that’s a wonderful thing.
However, and this is where the nostalgia comes in; there is something romantic about the dying notion that you meet people while travelling, or working or just in your general day-to-day life, who you are grateful to have met, but then never hear from again.
They remain in your memories or in photos, but nothing more.
The romance of this idea is lost when you can see on a daily basis what these people have gone on to do after you met them. Maybe they’re not actually that interesting, maybe they are, but either way the likeliness is that they become a person who you see pop up on Facebook now and then, but never actually talk to again.
They become just one of the updates you scroll past without pausing to consider, and this sours the memories you had. Sometimes there is wonder in not knowing and in speculating – social media kills this wonder without remorse.
For this reason it’s been refreshing to meet some great people, have some wonderful experiences, but let it be just that.
Maybe one day I’ll bump into them again, and I’ll be legitimately happy to see them, legitimately interested in where there life has taken them in the time between our encounters; but if I do, it’ll be because they didn’t become a faceless status update in a stream of faceless status updates, occasionally receiving an obligatory ‘like’.