Saturday, September 15, 2012

Social pariah networking

I'm beginning to grow tired of social networking. It may sound like a hastily phrased statement since I have been and continue to be such an avid user of Facebook, and for more than 200 days I've written a blog entry once a day, only to share it via social networking. Still, I think there's something that has been driving me away from this form of interaction.

Maybe it's only psychological, since I still recognize the power of the internet in dispersing information and use it fully to my advantage. But I've begun to grow more and more annoyed with how I present myself and how I interact with others through these means.

At 12 years old, I sat in my seventh grade biology class next to a girl who for the sake of privacy (and because I don't want people assuming they know who I'm talking about) I will call Michelle. Michelle was one of those girls you couldn't quite pin down. She loved Gilmore Girls like I did. She wore bright colors and had colorful rubber bands on her braces. She was eccentric and friendly. But she also loved putting heavy eyeliner under her eyes. She wore band t-shirts on occasion and painted her nails black. She listened to punk rock music and was essentially a "scene" kid, if that phrase rings any bells for those who were preteens in the early 2000's.

One day, when we were sitting next to each other ignoring our biology teacher, Michelle and I were talking about this new thing called MySpace. I didn't know quite what it was, but knowing she had fresh ears to preach to, she suggested I join.

Over the next few days, we talked a lot about what MySpace was. She suggested types of photos I could take of myself for the site, how I could properly fill out my profile, where to get good layouts, etc. etc. It was such a novelty to me, that I embraced it whole-heartedly.

MySpace was a breeding ground for preteen enthusiasm, demonstrated quite clearly by my own devotion to the site for a few years. But it was also a place where my already pre-determined awkwardness would be multiplied and pushed back into my face.

Despite having hundreds of friends on MySpace, I continued to be relatively unpopular at school. My close friends were still my close friends, but connecting with people over social networking had nothing to do with being actual friends with them.

I started to realize the distinctions that were present in relationships with my schoolmates were not so much breached as silently perpetuated over the internet. And by "silent," I mean literally silent.

The point of social networking, after all, is to get to know people and connect with those you already know. But when it comes down to its actual function, it turns into this method of narcissistic popularity flaunting, and for those of us who are not so popular, attempts (and failures) at popularity creating even when the popular kids want nothing to do with you.

In middle school, I was always surrounded by friends. A select group of friends. We ate lunch together, we had classes together, we had running gags and inside jokes together. I was never the kind of person who got along with everybody. But a little website called MySpace convinced me I could be, even though I was clearly not accomplishing this supposed goal.

All that I created were superficial "relationships" where I was needlessly connected to people who meant nothing to me and who I meant nothing to. And to this day, these relationships still exist between me and plenty of people who I connect with on the newer social networking phenomena.

My Facebook nears 450 "friends." I just started reusing my Twitter account on which I follow and am followed by people, despite most of my best friends not even using the site. Then there's Instagram and Tumblr and Pinterest and all these other sites that I have accounts on, but on which I really gain no purpose or success in life other than time wasted and interactions confused.

Yet throughout this process, I've discovered my own insecurities better than I might have under any other circumstance. Because social networking sets forth our greatest fear - knowing too much. In getting to know people through this method, I've essentially become a stalker of everyone I interact with - knowing what movies, television and music they like, being aware of where they are at any moment in time, finding out their accomplishments and failures because we all share information about our lives sometimes a bit too freely when it just means pressing "Post" on a status.

It makes me think I know things about people when I really don't. And it makes me aware of information that I shouldn't know, or that I'd rather not.

It also makes me question things with people who I should trust, and be misled under false pretenses by people I shouldn't. Because the major fault in social networking is that it allows us to manipulate our image in ways that are perhaps inaccurate, even purposely incorrect. So often I get muddled in descriptions of people from their internet profiles, that when I have to interact with them in real life I've already been given information to judge them by. There's no room for reinterpretation, because assumptions have already been made.

I think I sentence myself to this quite a bit, even by just having this blog. The type of person who posts on the internet every day is labeling herself a social anomaly. She is less interesting, less fun, less sociable than her counterparts. She is judged accordingly. She can become a social pariah, and even if she endeavors to break out of that label, there's already years of material on some website attesting to its authenticity. If people know I write a blog, they can assume these things about me without even knowing me. And I give access to this path of judgment to basically anyone who is friends with me on Facebook.

So essentially, since I was in seventh grade about eight years ago, I've managed to go from the type of person who had the lee-way to reinvent herself, to someone who is defined by her past. There is so much about me that is available for everyone to see and judge by. And so much for me to do the same with. It only creates a bigger gap between me and the people who I perhaps could have been friends with, but with whom I unwittingly sabotaged any chance of real human interaction.

As much as I love the internet - for giving me a place to write whatever I want to write and share it freely, for allowing me the chance to connect with friends (old and new), to look up any information I might need under any circumstances - its ability to turn me into my worst nightmare makes me hate it just the same. Without social networking, I would be less nosy, less pigeonholed, less taciturnly self-reflective. Maybe those changes would facilitate a happier, more cooperative existence with my fellow man.

Which would suggest that social networking is, in fact, more a hindrance on social interaction than a crutch/aid. Not a novel idea, by any means.

At this point I have no solutions because I still so heavily rely on things like Facebook to disperse my thoughts. Even if no one cares about what I have to say or what I do, I use social networking as a selfish means of reminding myself that I'm not completely alone in this world. Maybe that's a positive point, maybe it's a negative. In a way I wish I'd have not been faced with the dilemma at all. But I also just hope I have the strength to handle it better as time goes on.

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