I live my life online. So do you, probably. We share everything – every event and crisis and first day of school and pretty plate of food and new place we visit. We are compelled to comment on everything, or at least to like it so the poster knows we are engaged. We share intimate family moments and difficult personal ones. We are authentic in the least vulnerable way possible. The online way.
Because life is not lived online. In fact, online is not a place or a thing. It is real but is an alternate reality. No matter how “real” we seek to be online it is never really life. Because life is lived here and now with people in places thinking thoughts and saying words and doing actions. That is life.
Life is not actually a public affair. It is not for the consumption of others. Yet we seek to shove our lives into the public alternate reality of social media for all to see. We are confused. The term “friend” no longer means friend. We calculate the significance of our moments by likes never considering if we liked the moment. We take the vulnerable moments of grief, pain, struggle, anger, and confusion – moments to be tended with as much care as an infant in the NICU – and expose them to the elements of that other universe, the online one.
We make public what is lived privately and likely ought to stay that way. We feel dishonest or inauthentic for keeping our lives to ourselves. “Lives are meant to be shared,” we think.
No. Lives are meant to be lived to the fullest extent we know how.
The more we take our lives online the more we lose to a reality that is not ours. It is a sacrifice, a giving of ourselves to others who care little for us and are merely consumers. We become prisoners of comparison, constantly comparing our moments to others’ rather than simply appreciating them. We are bound by a weird sense of obligation to engage and respond to others’ moments or thoughts in just the right manner so that we are seen in the tight light – to express our sorrow at their grief or to like their photo quickly after it is posted. We strive for a persona, a “real” persona in an environment that is not reality. We are not being false (at least not most of us) and neither is social media fake – it simply lacks the multi-dimensional richness of life.
Life is lived in conversation and in private. It is the interactions between people in places about ideas or challenges. It is pain that cannot be solved online and pleasure that social media lacks the facets to reflect. It is physical and emotionally complex to the point of confusion. It is spiritually profound beyond words. The Internet cannot hold real life. Instagram cannot capture it. Facebook cannot explain it or argue it into submission. And 140 characters is hardly a glimpse of it. We live life here and now and there tomorrow. Nowhere else.
What is the value of social media, then? Of the dim reflection of reality the online universe reflects? The value is in what it brings to real life. Anything outside that is nothingness and fake. But it does bring value, and how!
Social media creates connections between people – real people – to meet and engage in a context that is real. It allows real people, real friends, to keep up with some of the basic happenings of each other’s lives (not the deep happenings – those are offline engagements) and reminds us of whom we might have forgotten about for too long. It is a means for discovering ideas and discovering who is saying what about what ideas, and those ideas and influencers are things that we can take with us into life. It provides humor and entertainment which might provide a necessary escape from life or may improve our spirits in it.
Any way that the online universe enhances real life is a good thing. Any way that it robs us of life or robs life of us is a detriment. Because life is not lived online. Life is lived here and now. And there tomorrow.