WHAT THE SOCIAL MEDIA “HOW TO” BOOKS DO NOT ALWAYS TELL YOU…But I Will

Conversation
Conversation (Photo credit: Bright Meadow)

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.

Springer giving a speech at Emory University i...
Springer giving a speech at Emory University in 2007. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

gomer_pyle
gomer_pyle (Photo credit: candid)

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.”

Mark Zuckerberg, May 2007
Mark Zuckerberg, May 2007 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

CNMC 2011 221
CNMC 2011 221 (Photo credit: s.maentz)
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9 thoughts on “WHAT THE SOCIAL MEDIA “HOW TO” BOOKS DO NOT ALWAYS TELL YOU…But I Will

  1. Richard,

    I had to smile at your blog and some of the comments that have been made. I have a whopping 20 Facebook friends! I do, however, get your point. I think I mentioned a blogger with whom I was corresponding who called me an apostate priest. We have continued our dialogue in private and, believe me, he is one “friend” who makes me want to beat my head against a brick wall. If he and I were Facebook friends, I would most certainly “unfriend” him. As it stands, because we have been emailing, I can ignore his latest diatribe against the Roman Catholic Church, my beliefs, and my vocation — at least until I have the energy to respond. Boston has been draining and I will need time to recharge before, once again, attempting to dialogue with this person. Home to the mountains in a couple of weeks, to reflect and meditate on all of God’s graces that I have witnessed.

    Blessings to you, Richard!
    Fr. Michael

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  2. nana1954

    Richard — Maybe what we should agree on is the difference between a true friend and an acquaintance. Yes??? I do understand what you are saying about losing friends. I think what I may have been trying to explain, albeit not very well, is that friends have disappeared from my life and it does hurt. I do wonder how those friends are — one, in particular, who was my best friend in high school. I think my attitude about friends coming and going is, partly, a defense mechanism — or a dose of reality.

    My in-laws have friends they have known since kindergarten. They are 87 years old!!!! Maybe because I was an Air Force “brat,” I have known all of my life that friends do not last forever. We moved every spring until I was in 4th grade — I went to 6 elementary schools and 4th, 5th, and 6th grades were all in the same school. Do the math — that is a lot of moving. I am, also, the type of person who needs only a few close friends — I do not need a lot of friends, in person or on FB. You live alone, but I am a loner. I do not need friends to go shopping with; I do not need friends to go hiking with; I can travel alone and, sometimes, prefer it. I need a few close friends to call upon when I do want to do something with someone else. My husband doesn’t have friends — he has work associates. I dread the day he retires because what in the hell am I going to do with him??? Spend 24/7 with him? I don’t think so.

    You come from a small town, probably born and raised with the same people your whole life. Yes? I moved so much as a child, I can only vaguely remember who certain friends were until Jr. and Sr. HIgh school when we were, finally, settled. When I left high school, I left — mentally, if not physically. When Tom and I married — 34 years ago tomorrow!!!! — we moved to another state. I stayed in touch with a few close friends for several years but, unfortunately, those friendships also petered out. It is because of FB, I have reconnected with many of those people. So, I do think, as you said, where and how we are raised plays a huge part in how we view friends. For my in-laws to have friends they have known for 80+ years is totally amazing to me! Awesomely amazing!

    And, I do agree that people are rude. Have you visited Utah?? Those wholesome Mormons are some of the rudest people I have ever met. They are the WORST drivers I have ever shared the road with. Customer service? Only in my dreams. My son is a server in a restaurant. Would you like to talk about how the Mormons DO NOT tip? Patrick makes a whopping $2.13 an hour + tips. He relies on those tips to pay his bills. What I have learned from your blog post is that before I “unfriend” someone on FB, maybe I should explain to them why and ask what they think. Yes? After all, the only reason I would consider unfriending (btw, my spellchecker doesn’t recognize “unfriending” as a word!) them is because they are no longer a part of my life, nor am I a part of their life. To me, deleting “friends” I no longer have contact with is just housecleaning. And, my house is nearly immaculate!!! Neat, tidy, and organized, for sure. 🙂

    Rudeness — so we (you) could start a campaign with the 10 Commandments of Politeness. 🙂 Just a little while ago, I was driving through a parking lot and saw a stand selling Girl Scout cookies. Late, but they were there with my favorites!!! My cute little Brownies didn’t call this year, plus we were out of the country when they would have been delivered so I didn’t call them. Anyway, I stopped to buy a couple boxes of Do-Si-Dos — my favorites since I sold them for $.50 a box a gazillion years ago. The little brother was selling Scout-O-Rama tickets, the mom and grandma were wearing Boy Scout leader uniforms while the Girl Scout was standing there on her damn phone. Now, I was there to buy Girl Scout cookies. Don’t you think the Girl Scout could have paid attention to me?????????? She is a Cadet, which means middle school, which means she should be old enough to have manners. But, do you think the very Mormon mother and grandmother said to her, “Honey, put your phone away and pay attention to your customer?” Nope. Rude!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Your pet peeve is how Internet friends treat you; my pet peeve is how people, in general, have forgotten, or never learned, their manners. Grrrrr……. ;-

    And, with that little soap box of mine — Have a gloriously awesome and blessed weekend!! Spring has finally sprung in Utah! The flower beds need some attention and the sun is shining!

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    1. I can add very little except to say I think many of your points are well taken and some of it is indeed semantics.

      Not going to attack the Mormons though…I think much of the same rudeness is pretty universal in the world we live in. Sadly.

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  3. I don’t know what my expectations with Facebook were originally. At first, I was dragged into it by my secretary as the “new” way to make friends and influence people. I eventually thought it would be a way to develop friendships, even if just casual. Since having my account set up for me, I’ve deleted my “friends” list 3 times and started over from scratch. I’d deactivated my account twice. I’ve come to think that instead of “friends” there might be categories like, “acquaintances,” “people I’d like to know better,” and “people I can only tolerate here.” That last one is a tiny bit tongue-in-cheek.

    And don’t even get me started on people doing “church” online and with social media. How is that possible???!!!

    Your frustrations are real, and I think many other feel the same, including me. This explains the drop of social media use. I take it in stride and once in a while totally give up. I re-focus myself, set a new framework for what I want out of Facebook, and start over. My true friends will be my friends whether we’re both on Facebook or not.

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  4. Laura S.

    So sorry that you experienced that 😦 I think I also have a love-hate relationship with facebook… probably why I’ve given it up for two Lents in a row! I have several good friends who are a bit too social-media happy and are constantly posting articles, foursquare check-ins, status updates, etc… and don’t seem to realize that there’s a point at which you’re going to oversaturate everyone and they’re going to block your newsfeed… whether you disagree with what they’re posting or not! I love to meet new people and think that friendships can form online over time, but they’re usually best when outflowing from a true in-person relationship in the first place. I have a few online friends from a forum that I’d love to meet someday, but the majority of them are in other states 🙂 I think people let themselves get too busy and facebook becomes their substitute (and poor imitation) for maintaining their friendships in person or via phone and they think that a “like” or comment on a picture is a sufficient effort towards that. It’s too easy to get caught up with work or home responsibilities and shut everyone else out… if social media isn’t something that a person regularly accesses, then they may not be intentionally ignoring you… they might just not regularly log onto facebook. Now I need to find your blog on facebook…. enjoy the beautiful (finally!!!) spring weekend – from a fellow Minnesotan

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    1. Agreed–part of my issue is that I (out of necessity) work 2 jobs and have some health issues, so quite often I come home and crash, then find myself up at 2 AM. And those darned “in person” friends and family do not wish to chat at that time for some reason lol…I think friendships can come either way. What really had irked me, as you read in my post, was particularly a person who seemed to be reaching out to me over and over–until I reached back. And then, POOF. It happens. I have in fact done it to people who I deleted and felt I could not adequately explain to them why, so thought it was better to just be gone.

      FB is like the real world, in that there are good folks, a few crazies, and everything in between. But in many ways I think it has harmed rather than helped “get people together.” People read a post they do not like and find out you have a political view that they do not share–and this can happen with family too–and friendships or relationships become strained. Yet I hang on because of those few who would never read my blog yet do check their FB pages, or mine. So I am not sure of the answer, or if there is one. But I do find it irritating that a chosen few think they have all of the answers about social media and the rest of us are to follow suit or be left behind. Maybe sometimes behind is not so bad after all. Thanks Laura!!! HEY no snow this weekend lol.

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  5. nana1954

    Hi Richard!!

    Since I haven’t chimed in for quite some time, I thought this might be a good one. Bear with me. 🙂 When I discovered FB, I reconnected with high school classmates and cousins who live far and wide. At the same time, I had returned to school and became “friends” with university classmates and study partners. Once my friend list hit 100, I thought that was enough. As one of your friends said, I, also, do not collect friends for the sake of collecting friends. All the FB friends I have are people who are important to me. I have “unfriended” people who are no longer a part of my life. What I have learned in my 58 years (and I am NOT old!!!!!) is that people pass through our lives at certain times — some stay forever, others enter our lives for a purpose and then move on. After awhile, my FB friend list hit 150, then 160. At 160, I cleaned house. A couple of years ago, I had 3 FB friends who had died — in one year. I kept them as friends for many months just to check in with others who were missing them, but then finally “unfriended” them. After all, they were in heaven and I couldn’t very well communicate with them anymore. Right? Right.

    Here is my take on FB and what I use it for — I want to see pictures of old friends and my family and their families. I want to know how they are doing. I want to stay in touch. I DO NOT want political crap, advertisements, or “I like” crap. Lately, the thing people seem to be doing is posting pictures of FATTENING foods with recipes. I try hard not to cook so I certainly do not want to see recipes wasting FB space. Besides, I have yet to see anything healthy. FB, to me, is not the place to debate. Do that in private or on a blog. Frankly, I am tired of FB but every time I threaten to close my account, someone from my past re-enters and I know I need to keep my account active. Besides, FB is a good way to keep tabs on all the dumb bimbos my son has in his life. :]

    My friend list has hit an all time high of 170. Is it time to clean house again? Maybe. My newest friends are people we met on our incredible journey to Vietnam and Cambodia — I have a few Vietnamese friends, a Cambodian friend, and a couple of Australian friends. 🙂 Most of my FB friends are from high school; the next largest group is extended family; and then people I just happen to know. Our cute Vietnamese “daughter” has friends who want to be my friend. I guarantee that Tom and I are the only Americans Trang has ever met so her friends want an American friend, too. So far, I am ignoring them. They barely speak English and I certainly do not speak Vietnamese.

    So — I think I am disagreeing with some of what you expect from FB. Maybe??? BTW, you and I are not FB friends. Why is that? I can’t “friend” you — all I can do is “follow” you — and you haven’t “friended” me. Are my feelings hurt? Nope. But, I wouldn’t mind being friends. 🙂

    I guess what I am saying, Richard, is that friends come and go — in life and on FB. We enter their lives or they enter our lives, sometimes for a specific reason — it’s a God thing when a new friend shows up at just the right moment. Then, when that moment has resolved itself, sometimes that friend moves on. It is a part of life. People get busy, their interests change, they move away. And, then, new friends come into our lives. Like my new friend, Shelley, who I met just before Christmas. We have become such good friends in such a short time, that she has recruited me to go to camp with abused kids this summer. http://royalfamilykids.org Will we be friends forever? Only God knows that answer. 🙂

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    1. Welcome back Dana…and again we will need to “agree to disagree.” While I know and have lived long enough to realize that even very significant people in my life must come and go, and do so sometimes without warning, I think we may have a different view on friendships in general.

      For one thing, being single and not looking causes me to probably hang on tighter to the people I do meet, whether on line or in person. Sometimes it gets me into trouble, but many times the opposite happens. I find a friend who I end up keeping close to my heart and it can be when least expected–but I do not easily trust people. That is just part of my nature, and perhaps an area I must work on, but when someone seeks you out repeatedly and then disappears with no logical explanation, and after a long period of seemingly good communication, then it hurts. In person or online. And that is what happened in the cases I mentioned.

      I am also a person who, once my heart is given over to a person, it stays that way. Perhaps as I stated that is part of being a rural/small town upbringing, but I was always given the impression that connections were made to last. Once a friend, always a friend. Sort of like being Catholic lol. I still think of and pray for friends I had in high school or college, and my guess is that some of them have not thought about me in years, truth be told. But I would be less of the person I am if I attempted to change that at this point in my life.

      So while I get what you are saying I feel a bit like you are minimizing a bit how I am feeling here (not intentionally obviously!) in that I was simply expressing the pain I felt with a few particular folks. But in that process I also am learning not to expect so much online, whether FB, Twitter, blogging, or AOL. So on that point I agree. But the outcome of that is me not having as much motivation to get online or to even write my thoughts since I really don’t know who cares anyway. I have had people tell me “write for yourself” but that is like saying “go into a deserted forest and scream” and then see if the trees hear you and respond. Writing for me is a moot point without input or interaction. And I find it offensive (again this is not towards you at all) that people, primarily family and also a few close friends, who told me over and over to start writing, do not even read my stuff because they “disagree” with where my life has gone politically or religiously. If I for instance had a Catholic friend who became a Muslim or Buddhist, and they were truly my friend, or even more so my family, I would definitely read their stuff and even occasionally compliment the parts I agreed with. Why? Because they, as people, as humans connected to me, are more important than their views. Anyway that is me and how I operate.

      As to becoming FB friends you would probably hate my page anyway, as it has all of the elements you said you disliked above. Except perhaps the unhealthy recipes lol. It is primarily a link to my blog and a way to catch certain family members in case of serious emergencies etc. and that is just about it. Or I may post something short and sweet that simply does not warrant an entire blog posting but just a few sentences. Otherwise you are better off with the blog I think.

      But I am glad you are here!

      PS–one person I both unfriended and blocked was a “friend of a friend” who was a minister. He told me that he liked me “so much” as a person but hated my posts. So I made sure he never could access them again. Bon voyage Simon…oh well. Now in that case I never truly considered him a friend as such, but it still stung a bit. And I cannot help it if I feel hurt when such things occur, I simply do. I CAN control what I do about it, and I made it impossible for him to “follow” my page without my knowledge. So that was at least some small satisfaction for his apparent smugness towards me.

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