Every now and then, more now than then, I suppose, people are expressing their growing discomfort with the feedback routines on social media. How they feel that they have become dependent on the approval and recognition from people they don’t even know, measured by the amount of likes, comments and views they are receiving. Much in sync with current research on how the use of social media increases feelings of depression and anxiety and affects the ability to focus. I think this countermovement is a very natural thing to happen, a sort of correction that follows after an initial crazyness and eagerness to discover these new tools and new forms of interaction, not knowing yet how to use them. And now, after a decade or what, we are starting to feel the flipside and we need to learn from these experiences and adjust ourselves and our online behaviour. Perhaps it is going to take another decade, before we relate to these media in a truly natural, comfortable way.
‘Discomfort’ is mostly related to an addiction to approval and attention, but there is something else too that is certainly a thing for me: I don’t know how to value online relationships, I don’t know what they mean or how to feel about them. They are fundamentally different from offline relationships, as to the information you are offered, which by definition excludes the non-verbal and the non-public. And which includes huge gaps and a lot of noise. I have been following people for years that I don’t know anything about. I know the pictures they take, and I have probably exchanged some comments over the years, but I don’t have a clue of who they are. But in a strange way you become attached to them, or at least used to them as a part of the daily routine of checking your newsfeed. Sometimes people suddenly disappear. They delete their account and they’re gone. Or they unfollow you for unknown reasons. I also follow or even befriend people that I have never talked to at all. But I see their family, their home and their children growing up. Some people spark my interest more than others, and I talk to them more often, online or through email. ‘Online friends’ one could call them, and I don’t know if it’s okay to expect a sort of loyalty from them, but I do nevertheless. The truth of course is, that none of these people are my friends. I might as well drop dead tomorrow and nobody would even notice. I would just be a name that disappears from their newsfeed. For people who are not my friends, I spend an awful lot of time with them. But they are not strangers either. Or they are, but it doesn’t feel that way. That’s what makes it complicated. One time I was pretty sure that one of these online interactions had grown into a solid and much valued friendship. And perhaps it did, but I fell flat on my face even so, hurt to the bones. A mistake, apparently, to apply the ‘rules’ of an offline friendship to an online relationship.
This photo above received more than 17.000 notes on tumblr. It doesn’t mean anything to me. It annoyed me, if that much. I don’t need my picture all over the place, featured on a couple of thousand blogs that I would never want to follow. I would instantly trade all those notes for a few comments from people that I wish I had known how to build a relationship with. People whose judgement I value, who do not only give me praise, but also criticism. People who do not disappear. But for me, building relationships is as difficult online, as it is in the real world. If there is one thing I have come to understand, it’s this: the idea that ‘online you can be anyone you choose to be’ is just not true. I can only be me, and the world is just the world. And staring at a blinking cursor in a comment field, is just the equivalent of feeling lost at a party because you haven’t got a clue of what to say to anybody.