This would probably surprise many of the friends who know me as the guy who tweets a thousand times a day, but I began my adult life feeling very wary of social media.
When I was in high school, LiveJournal was the ruling social media of the day (though we spent much more time on AIM and forums, which fall outside of what is currently called social media).
There were plenty of fun aspects of LiveJournal, but as a bunch of teenagers it was mostly used as a tool to create drama, or amplify the drama that was already going on when we were on the physical premises of the school. Some people were pretty blatant—calling certain people out, being insulting or catty. But I was that particularly charming and admirable flavor of teenage boy that is a coward and also thinks he is incredibly clever.
So outright insults or saying what I was thinking wasn’t really my thing; instead, I insinuating with the approximate subtlety of a hydrogen bomb. But I thought my messages were very veiled and coded! The most blatant instance involved having feelings for a friend’s girlfriend. Instead of saying so, or talking to her or him or both of them, I waxed poetic on my LiveJournal any time she and I spent time together. Some part of me thought that I had some kind of weird plausible deniability when the guy clearly saw what was going on, but another part got a contrarian’s (and coward’s) enjoyment from rankling him in this manner.
They have words for the equivalent on Twitter and Facebook these days, but, in short, it was typical teenage nonsense.
By the time Facebook came to George Mason University, I had grown well beyond this, or liked to think that I had. Rather than frequenting forums, I read blogs and had a blog of my own. I believed that part of the value of blogging was that it was imminently ignorable—I wasn’t getting in anyone’s face, I wasn’t imposing my point of view on anyone who didn’t make a conscious choice to seek out my writing.
Facebook, which stitched us all back together in a common space again, I feared would bring out that untactful coward from my teenage years. I joined because my other friends did, but I didn’t quite get it while I was still in undergrad. I deleted and recreated my Facebook account no less than four or five times before finally buying into the thing for good.
What caused me to finally “get” Facebook was when my first good friend got married in the summer of 2008, and my friends who had been there, as well as the other members of the wedding party, began posting pictures a few days later. I friended the people I had met at the wedding to see more pictures, and shared the pictures that I had taken. I had had a great time at the wedding, and cared a lot about the people involved, so I really enjoyed being able to relive it with the pictures.
I decided it was time for me to grow up and start using this Facebook thing like a normal person my age. A few weeks after the wedding, I sent a relationship request to the girl I had been dating for a little while, just before my family and I would be going to Miami for a couple of weeks. Relationship statuses are a thing people do, right? That’s normal. I should do that.
It was shot down in flames, for the very prudent reason that this girl (to whom I am now married) did not believe in broadcasting her relationship status on Facebook. Being 23 years old and by no stretch of the imagination a teenager, I took this as maturely as you would expect—by becoming extremely despondent and assuming that I had ruined what little chance I may have had with her. When we got to Miami, we were staying somewhere without an Internet connection, and I wallowed in my despair for days.
When I finally managed to check my email and various accounts on a cousins’ computer, I discovered that Catherine (the girl I was dating) had left me a very friendly message to the tune of have fun on vacation, look forward to seeing you when you return. This immediately lifted me from my dour state, and imbued with with a fresh love for life and all of God’s creatures.
2008 was also the year I got into Twitter, and it quickly became the most rewarding social network I’ve ever joined. I have made so many friends, and solidified connections with friends made elsewhere, on Twitter. I have had so many interesting conversations, with so many interesting people.
At the end of 2008, Catherine started a blog on her neighborhood in DC called U Street Girl. Though I did not participate in the DC blogosphere myself, she introduced me to it, and the wonderful community that had grown around it. Twitter was and is the main hub of online activity for this community. Twitter also had the benefit of including individuals like myself who did not contribute blog posts but participated in the community in other ways. Now that we live in New York, it—along with Facebook and Tumblr and other places—has remained and excellent way to stay connected to those people we care about from that community.
At our wedding last year, we had five guests that we had originally met over the Internet. One of them we didn’t meet in person until that day!
At this point, social media has simply blended into my daily life. Twitter and Facebook were exciting new things when they sprang up, but now they’re as commonplace in my experience of the world as chat, email, blogs, and the hardware through which I access them all. Like the venues for web conversation and content that predate them, modern social media have matured to a point where they are taken for granted.
I’d like to think I’ve matured as well, in my relationship with them. But we’re not the best people to judge ourselves, I suppose.