Awhile back, someone who I had really respected told me that we quite apparently “use Face Book” differently, and strongly implied or said outright that I was expecting too much of people I did not know. He was and is very possibly right to some extent at least. Then again I suspect that is true with pretty much all of us.
What had initiated the above conversation was that I lately had gotten into all kinds of difficulty when posting a “complaint” on my FB page that I wanted more interaction from people–i.e. meaning personal chatting, saying hello, and the like. And I do not mean only FB friends. This goes for in-person friends and relatives too. We do not have to agree on politics or religion to care about what is happening in one another’s lives. The problem was that another particular person interpreted that comment as meaning I wanted to start what he called a “lively discussion” on my page, so he proceeded to do so in spades. And when I ended or at least curtailed that chat, he (person # 2) ended our online “friendship” in no uncertain terms. And perhaps in that case it was indeed for the best.
On the other hand, many times I post an article, simply because I find it interesting and/or thought-provoking, and then the response is total silence. I do not necessarily mind that either to an extent. I am not one for big infighting and calling it “conversation,” nor am I particularly excited about turning my social media outlets into Debate 2.0. So I may allow a certain amount of that but then I, as my own FB page owner and monitor, generally end that particular chat. And that is my right and prerogative.
That technique by the way is something I learned in many years of ministry, as well as in numerous other public speaking venues over the years–and even something those of you in business or sales have likely learned over the years as well. if you initiate a discussion, you also can and should ultimately control and limit it when needed. In fact the President does the same during press conferences, as does the Vatican and it occurs at pretty much every public speaking event you or I might attend. Ever heard the “time for one more question” 2 minute warning? That indeed is a clear form of controlling public forums before they get out of hand. And it is perfectly appropriate to do so online when needed as well.
But that is not so much clear on Face Book or other “social media” for whatever reason. I have seen blogs or other pages where there are 300 or more comments and the increasingly inane arguing continues ad infinitum. And, apparently, that is what people expect or even hope for. It becomes one gigantic online episode of a rather twisted combination of “Jerry Springer” and “Dr Phil.” And, by that time, no one listens or reads one another’s thoughts or bothers showing even basic respect anymore. That is not my idea of an intelligent or even lively “discussion” personally. So I have been known to say “enough,” sincerely thank people for their participation, and then go on and move on. My right. And more than that, I think quite often my duty in order to keep the chat or page from bogging down or becoming completely unedifying. Again, something I learned from years of interpersonal communications on a face-to-face and public speaking level, as well as extensive telephone and other communication work in my careers.
But that to me is what is sorely missing when I get on here. I was told by this 1st person that he was on here to primarily interact with family, friends in his area where he lives, and then “others,” which even after 2 years of some very intense conversations, I was clearly one of. I wrote back to him, at his request, about my very honest hurt at his attitude and he never even responded. So I finally and sadly unfriended him just a couple of days ago. What bothers and ever confuses me is that the “social media” has seemingly some set of unwritten rules which I clearly cannot wrap myself around for whatever reason. What would be considered polite chat in person becomes similar to road rage online. People curse at one another, find friends after 30 years only to lose them when they find out your life has gone differently than they expected, and onward, upward, and yes, downward too.
Let me give you another specific example. Since high school I had searched for a particular person who I had lost touch with. Several times in fact I had looked for him on various occasions. His fiancée, a dear friend of mine at the time, was killed tragically in a car accident when he was just 18 and she 19, and I had known her pretty well too so I befriended him after this horrible event. We corresponded beautifully for a number of years, but, as often happens we lost touch eventually. Through a mutual FB “friend of a friend” I at long last located him once again and was truly overjoyed. Over the years I had prayed so very often for this individual and still to this day hurt deeply for his loss, which was a loss for others of us too, but was extremely glad to find out he had married happily, had a beautiful family, and was doing well. One day I found I had been “unfriended” by him with absolutely no explanation. I wrote to ask him why, as I was totally mystified. He then told me it was due to my Catholic oriented postings on such topics as relics!!! He also said he was not a “friend collector” on here anyway. Nor am I, although apparently he had not noticed that part. I had added him because I literally had so much missed talking to him over the years and really, truly cared about his life and welfare. But his evangelical world did not allow for discussions about “relics” and so I was out. Just like that. He never once asked how I had been doing over the last 30 years, what struggles I may have had, or even why I had ended up Catholic again (we were both evangelical charismatics when we initially met). But one post too many about a religion he did not believe in or agree with was all it took to kick me to the curb without a word. So bon voyage it was.
In the other situation which I initially started this posting with, what is ironic is that I use, or attempt to use, FB and other media exactly as he does in fact. But on his FB page he has had long and drawn-out arguments that have gone on for days at times, and all I ever did was to support him strongly in most of those conversations, even when they became heated. He is an intelligent person and well-studied, and I knew had gotten a hard time from certain of his family and friends. In short I could relate. When I rather deeply struggled last summer for a short time concerning my own relationship with the Church, he continually hunted me down and hounded me using my blog, his blog, a mutual friend, my personal email (which I eventually had to in fact change as a result) and would just not let up until we were communicating once again.
However now that I am ironically clearly on the same team as he, I am virtually ignored by him. And even after 2 years, my suggestion of a simple phone call a few weeks ago pretty much nailed the coffin shut on our friendship once and for all. That kind of personal interaction with those “others” was not on his list of “rules of personal media” at least seemingly. It was okay to get into intensely personal conversations with me, at first a virtual stranger, to then chase me down and all but stalk and harass me when he disapproved of my actions, but when I proposed a communication by telephone I somehow crossed some ethical or invisible line I did not know about. I became the dangerous dog who was in one of those yards with electric protection not seen by the naked eye. I trotted innocently to the edge of the yard and–ZAP–he was done with me basically. And again bon voyage.
I was raised in a small town, and, although having been a city boy by choice for many years now, still have a certain amount of that other side to me. I for instance do not understand seeing someone in the hall at work without saying hi to them. Normally people answer, but if someone does not answer me after 3-4 times I finally get the hint and do not bother again unless they reciprocate. But I always at least initiate it. Same in my apartment building. I consider the people here to be my “neighbors,” and I suppose that is very Gomer Pyle or worse, Fred Rogers, of me to some pseudo-sophisticates who see themselves as younger and smarter than old guys such as me. And it also sets me up to be hurt from time to time. And the occasions where I have very nearly pulled the plug on my online “operations” have always and each time been due to reasons such as those. I am closer to 60 than 50, but still somehow expect, or at least naïvely hope, for actual and real “friendships” to at least sometimes develop from FB or other contacts on the Internet. And once in a while they do. But I have come to the conclusion that they primarily do not exist on here. At least not often. None of the people who encouraged me to start writing even read my posts, and that includes friends and family, at least as far as I know. The few on-liners I have ever dared to allow into my life on any personal level have almost never become “friends” in any tangible sense in the long run. And, worse, such as in the 2nd example above, I have actually lost friends I had waited for 20 or more years in many cases to re-connect with.
In sharing some of these frustrations, and that is what they are, with others I have been misinterpreted by some people as “feeling sorry for myself” or, and in this case perhaps more accurately, expecting too much from online supposed connections. Ironically almost none of my real-time friends are on here anyway. And I now know why. Mark Zuckerberg, the young multi-billionaire and CEO of Face Book, says publicly that his purpose is to “bring the world together.” Nonsense. If that is what he believes he is doing, he needs to take a refresher course or two in interpersonal communications and learn how to interact with kindness and charity, and then teach and insist that others do the same on his “social network.”
I have lost more friends than I have ever gained online (and from talking to others I find I am far from alone in this), and I believe I am actually pretty good in my interpersonal skills overall, at least in person or real-time. But in a virtual “world” with no real rules or direction as to what is “right or wrong,” helpful or not-so-helpful, in those types of communications, each and every one of us have and will continue to have very different expectations about what that should look like and it shows. And with nearly a billion people on Face Book or other social media, from many dozens of other nations and cultural norms, conflict, and some of it very painful, is just plain inevitable. That needs to be rule # 1 for anyone attempting online communication. And it is a rule I have yet to grasp fully.
I first signed on to America Online in 1995, which is now at this writing 18 years ago. Those who today are the “online media gurus,” such as Zuckerberg or my FB friend Brandon Vogt, author of the very well-written and helpful book The Church and the Social Media and current quite the darling of the same, were literally small children then. And this is not a put-down of Brandon’s book–not at all— or even of Zuck–well maybe partly so in his case. It is perhaps instead a cry of honest pain from those of us who have been genuinely injured at times by the same media that they and others, me included, love so much. It is an appeal for the human element. And I am not sure it will ever really exist on here. I am learning sadly to think not.
- Social Media, The Life of the Party? (jenowenby.wordpress.com)
- 5 Ways to Implement Social Media in the Office (bloggingtips.com)
- Rising Rudeness in Social Media, Study Finds (cio-today.com)
- Anti-social networks: spats increasing in cyberspace (moneymakingblog101.wordpress.com)
- the two faces of facebook (emilypeytoncook.typepad.com)
- Friendships cut short on social media (stuff.co.nz)
- FACEBOOK POSTS AND INTERNET ETIQUETTE THOUGHTS – A GENTLE REMINDER:) – A 2011 Reblog from…ME!!! (catholicboyrichard.com)
- Social Networking is not Socializing (socialmedianetworkingtips.wordpress.com)