What is the last social interaction you had? Did you feel like you were being forced to string words together into sentences for the sake of the conversation? Lately, the world has been opening up from the confines of an international airborne virus. In this time, people have seemed to crave human interaction. At the very least, they crave human closeness.
So, what’s going on with actual interpersonal conversations? It seems to be a dying art. There is a part of me that wants to blame these wretched cell phones or the outpour of people confessing to having social anxiety. Cell phone usage and social anxiety are valid excuses; however, blaming any of these things would turn them into a metaphorical crutch. Ultimately, this is a people problem.
People choose to remain silent in the elevator or waiting in a checkout line. There is an unspoken code of conduct that has permeated all of our lives. People follow the notion that we don’t always have to speak to their co-habitants, which I admittedly understand. However, the concept of speaking to those around you doesn’t seem to be an issue when it’s time to talk amongst your Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter friends— many of which are quite literally strangers. These are people you don’t even see in your everyday life. I have been curious about what exactly it is that silences us in real-world situations. I am not removing myself from this line of questioning. There is something that feels safe about conversing with internet groups. That said, after pondering, I’ve decided it must be the cloak of anonymity that exists in those spaces which make us feel comfortable.
Although a person isn’t completely anonymous on social media, they aren’t under any real scrutiny. Should they be faced with said scrutiny, the conversation could be subsided with the push of a delete or unfollow button. The internet allows for a person to create themselves in their desired image. Whatever no longer suits your interests or persona, can be backspaced out of your reality. In person, there is nothing to hide behind. Whoever and however you are as a person is taken at face value, and you are completely responsible for how you show up. There is no time to think very long about the perfect response that aligns with your cultivated personality. Ultimately, this is a conversation about authenticity.
When face to face, if someone says something that is not exactly agreeable, it’s less likely that a group of people will be there to agree with and validate their opinion. It is ok to be wrong, disagreeable, and even offensive. I would argue that is what keeps the ebb and flow of life alive. I could go on my social media platforms at any point during the day or week and see something that I agree with. This would recur every time I logged on, too. I have designed it that way. Real-life cannot be constructed to your desired outcome. There exists no edit, crop, enlarge or erase buttons in real life. The closest equivalent I could compare any of these tools with is an old-fashioned apology. An admittance of error. Let’s bring those back.
The world that we exist in is ugly, stressful, beautiful, depressing, and unpredictable. So, the solution seems simple: people will have to become okay with being authentic human beings. Be okay with having a conversation with someone in the Starbucks line. Yes, you are risking the possibility of an awkward and stiff conversation. You might even get shut down completely by whomever you choose to speak with. That is life. Perhaps it will be the most delightful conversation you have had all week. That is also life. I am speaking from personal experience, and I am mainly speaking to myself. In fact, I may need to carry around a laminated copy of this as a sort of pledge to myself. This entire piece has been inspired by my own experiences in social media groups. Those experiences led me here, questioning nearly everything surrounding modern communication. I’ve witnessed strangers log on to social media websites nearly every day and speak to each other as if they were lifelong personal friends.
My main questions to myself were these: Are they faking? Why are they so committed to this? Why don’t I see anything like this in real (physical) life? As I have delved into the inner workings of my psyche via this writing piece, I have seemed to crack the code: this issue is concerning both comfortability and authenticity. I encourage anyone who reads this to ask the same of themselves. Why do you behave in the manner that you do? Ponder it, then act on it. The world is gradually re-opening. What will you do to cultivate your real-life persona in the same way you would an Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter feed? Good luck.