Lamenting the depersonalization of social media (a boring title for some personal whining)

December 4, 2012


I’ve been in a lather lately about how much that I want to see, Facebook fails to actually show me. This afternoon that morphed into a nostalgic lament about the way social media used to be back in the good old days. I was going to write about both aspects tonight, but the lament has taken longer than I planned, and it’s really the more important part anyway.

The Lament

Twitter. In January 2007, California Rob invited me to sign up on a new website called Twitter. I had no idea what it was but I always enjoyed learning about the new internet stuff sooner than most, thanks to him and his circle of Silicon Valley friends. At first I had no idea what to do with it (just as the entire world didn’t) and didn’t see what the big deal was about writing periodic statements about what I was doing or feeling. But because the cool kids (Rob and his friends) were doing it, I hung in there and contributed my apprisals of the situation.

And then a funny thing began to happen. I got to know these people in California (and one in Philadelphia). Through our unfocused updates about meals and bedtime and clock-watching at work, we who had never met in person were nevertheless able to develop a picture of each other. And then another funny new thing happened. I got to know more people in California because they were friends with the first bunch of people.

This was back before the term “tweet” had been coined or @ mentions had been coded. This was when you saw all the updates posted by all of your friends, regardless of whether they were directed @ you or not. This was when Twitter was like a cocktail party where you could drift in and out of conversations with people you did and didn’t know all around the room and, like after any good mixer, you’d come away with a few new people who you wanted to hang out with. 

Twitter was this way for a two or three years (I’m not researching exactly how long), which gave me the time to make two tiers of new friends. Then the powers that be decided that your side of the room didn’t need to know what the other side was talking about, even if you were with someone who knew people on both sides.

Facebook. I held out on joining Facebook for a long time. Five years ago, it seemed redundant to belong to two social networks, and at that time anyway, almost all of my online friends still focused their attention on Twitter (and if I think about it, most of those original people still do, even though there is a lot of pushing of identical updates from one service to the other).

I gave in in June 2008 (based on my registration email), but it wasn’t until almost a year later that I began using it with gusto (three and a half years ago, as of this post). And I can tell you exactly why I started. At the time, posting photos to Twitter wasn’t as easy as it is now. I found Facebook to be a convenient one-stop shop for posting status updates, photos, and links to important pages I thought you should visit. There wasn’t yet the raft of third-party services that make such things a breeze nowadays. And Facebook held the allure of allowing more than 140 characters (though I admit to feeling a great deal of satisfaction in adhering artfully to the 140-character rule, and I hope Twitter never changes it).

It didn’t take long before I thought of Facebook as my primary outlet. Almost all of my Twitter friends were also on Facebook so I didn’t feel like anybody was missing out on any of my Very Important Posts (in the beginning I was a purist in that I made a conscious effort to not post the same content to both services. Now, not so much so, though, unlike a lot of people, when I post the same content in both places, I manually do the posting rather than have some script or app push it to both places. So I’m still a purist in that small way. But I digress). I also imagine that, indirectly, I have my iPhone to thank as well, with its always present camera and on-board apps for ease of posting. I got in the habit of using Facebook for photos and thus has it remained.

The actual lament. Oh, how times have changed for both services. These days, Facebook and Twitter seem to have evolved into vehicles for promotion. And I don’t have a problem with that. Heaven knows, I follow a bazillion beer breweries and local bars and liquor stores, and TV shows, and news outlets. Who doesn’t like to be informed? 

What’s gone is the personal feel. My friends no longer share the mundane things about their lives. I like it when you say what you ate for breakfast, or that you’d really like a cup of coffee now, or any of ten thousand other trivial things. I miss seeing photos of your mismatched striped socks. There can never be too many photos of your furry sweeties. Are you enjoying a nice meal? Great! Let’s see it and hear about whether the service was great or crappy. Foursquare posts are a pale imitation of the first-person thing, but at least they’re something.

It has probably been three years since I came home with somebody’s phone number from the Twitter cocktail party. That makes me sad. As we have become more focused on the public entities we follow, we have forgotten about the personal connections.


Maybe we’re just too busy keeping up with all the third-party information that we let gush into our eyeballs to curate and maintain the personal connections. Maybe we’re too busy trying to project a clever, ironic public persona to actually be genuine anymore. My friend Tori said, “As it gets noisier, people get fewer responses to the things they post in their own voice, so there is a lot less return on the investment of putting yourself out there.” 

Would my life be radically different, or even different, if I didn’t let those third parties clog up my feed? Would yours? Not really. (Well, yes, actually it would be. I’d have more time.) Is my life enhanced, even slightly and therefore quite importantly, by you putting yourself out there? Absolutely. 

I’m afraid this is going to end rather abruptly, because all of sudden I’m very tired. But I’ll leave you with this request: start telling the world about your lunch again, friends!

Going to bed.

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