Even as technology makes everything more impersonal, it's never been more personal.
Far too personal, even intimate, actually; and in ways I consider at least as insidious as identity theft.
There's far more protection against identity theft than against relationship wreckage in social media.
I've entered this office carefully too many mornings in the last couple of years, wondering what e-bombs are ticking away, just waiting on my server for this analog-headed fool. Of the thousands of people I might call Contacts, Network or "Friends of Friends," the first question of the day has become who will reveal as a person who finds posting taunts on my Facebook page preferable to a 20-second phone call with me in real time. Byzantine as it is, if one doesn't master the new social dialect in 2013, one is neither Friend nor Friend of Friend. One is Toast.
I've committed social media faux pas of which I'll forever be unaware, which might surface as terminal (and I assumed he or she was just elsewhere, say, working hard). Like most tech wanderers, I've bumped into unexpected thresholds, whether getting hip to Account and Privacy Settings or reacting self-protectively to Mark Zuckerberg's latest upgrades, policy changes or apologies. (Wisdom: It's not about we, the users. It's about Mark Zuckerberg, by way of Wall Street.) If only Facebook had some term for caution or reflection, for feeling pushed, other than Unfriending or Blocking -- short of deactivating one's account. The private Facebook Message is just one more way for people to mess with our heads -- social media's unreturned phone call, if the mood strikes. I replied to someone only yesterday, "The way to swat that fly is to ignore it." I was referring to an unwanted voicemail. And actually, I didn't say it, I emailed it. I'm an offender, too.
We can WordPress or Tumblr all we want, but Facebook is the default blog, with unintended consequences whether we're instigators, moderators or polite voyeurs. The shadings of intention are opaque, however, for in today's media, social or otherwise, if you aren't extreme -- what used to be called colorful -- you don't much exist. Now, there's only black and white.
It's generally acknowledged that one-seventh of the world, one billion people, now have access to social media. Regardless of the venue, commentators, bloggers, blowhards and panelists are paid to fill media space. That space cannot be boring. The pressure to hold interest longer than a tweet is extreme and unremitting for those who make our living at it. It's an extreme sport, getting your one voice heard in a screaming stadium. The reason people are killed in crowd crushes isn't because soccer fans are louts looking for any trigger. It's because too many people are packed in too narrow a space. People start pushing. People get trapped, are trampled, suffocate, and disappear. For all its apparent enormity, social media is thoughtlessly designed; it is dangerously narrow.
At the first shove, step away.
I'm somewhat unsettled as I begin to understand that human relations may be nothing more than Marketing 101, whether it's reinventing Lincoln as a Ford-free luxury brand, Android recasting iPhone, or relationships with people with whom you've blown out birthday candles sabotaged by a single impulsive "send." There's no app for taking it back.
I mourn for being hopelessly misunderstood, for misunderstanding, just because it's all so cheap and easy. Social media, this technological power for good and for great, for forward-hoping revolutions, for keeping us in touch with high school friends and heartfelt loss and new babies, feels to me at the moment too much like crude uranium in the hands of Kim Jong Un. A dirty bomb.
Somewhere along the way, extremism, in the form of casual insult and obscenity, has become so openly rewarded that the very idea of four simple words, "Let us reason together," have literally almost zero currency. Showing up publicly without an aggressive open affiliation is an affront. To someone. In social media, moderation throws down the gauntlet. One is controversial. I've been called spineless. I've been accused, by members of Congress of both parties, that, to quote, I have to "hunt with a tribe." I've been admonished, "Marie, you can't just float above it all."
At least they said it to me in person.
In fact it takes a very strong and flexible backbone to keep one's balance. Especially in a screaming stadium. Somehow, I think even the remarkable Sheryl Sandberg knows that.
Photo illustration ©2013 Marie Woolf.