Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Thank You, Social Media: A Change of Heart

Over a year ago, I told you why I was (mostly) leaving Facebook. I was adamantly against the vagaries of social media.* Now, fourteen months later, I'm an active Facebook user, active Tweeter, active Tumblrer, active Plus-er... I went from hater to lover. Why, you ask?

First of all, I became more active thanks in part to becoming inactive. When I defriended all the people on Facebook who didn't interact with me, I was able to pour my time into having conversations. I was left with the people who actually talk back, who answer my questions and comments, and who are genuinely interested in sharing ideas. When I defriended people, Facebook became fun again.

Since then, I've discovered who's really using Facebook: the generations above me. More and more of my real-life friends are in their 30s, 40s, and beyond, and all of them are active Facebookers. Most of my FB friends before were people in their 20s who've had a Facebook since high school and for whom it has become rote: post your successes, dump your photos, but don't really care about what anyone is saying. Connecting with the crowd that actually uses Facebook made a difference.

It's also because I finally found where I belong.

In late 2013, I was still unenamored with Facebook and looking for something else. I chose Twitter because posts are restricted to 140 characters. (Some of us can remember when Facebook restricted you to 160. Those were the days.) If you have something to say, say it well and say it fast. There are no rambling, pointless posts. If I'm not interested, I move on.

People are more likely to read and respond because it involves little commitment from them; at most only a few seconds of their time are wasted. You can't judge people for a short response because everybody's tweets are short. This puts everyone on a level playing field and makes it easy to ignore people you don't like and get to know the people you do.

I began to scroll through hashtags (a series of words after the pound sign, like #amwritingrelated to writing, and that's where I found Them: my writing family.

Thanks to Twitter being 100% public, friending is simple. When you find someone you like, you follow them. I followed writers and they followed back. We replied to each other's posts and followed each other's blogs. Over the months, some of these people have become good friends of mine. We share our 30-second soundbites of good days and bad, opinions and quotes, successes and failures. We are a community.

I don't know these people in person. We've never met. But we're friends.

This opened social media up to endless possibilities. I didn't just have to follow people I know; I could become friends with anyone. I jumped on Tumblr and connected with writers, bloggers, and artists there. I met millennials, activists, and a whole community of people struggling with depression. Through social media--all forms of it--I've finally found my peeps.

Social media has now become my bread and butter. When I went to the Pike's Peak Writer's Conference, I met a load of amazing authors, many of whom I keep up with daily via social media. We are far-flung across the galaxy (okay, across the continental U.S., but it feels the same) but thanks to Twitter, and other social media on occasion, I can keep in touch with all of them.

Social media is a safe haven for me now. I can hop on for 5 minutes and exchange a few words with a friend, update the world on my crazy life, or read someone's story that makes me laugh/cry/rage against the machine. Getting a smartphone a few weeks ago made this even easier. In fact, it helps social media not swallow my time. I can pick up my phone and go through my texts and tweets in one fell five-minute swoop.

I'm never far from the people who care about me.

People live online these days. I do too. It's the future. It's what we millennials freaking grew up with. We don't call or write, but we text and update our statuses. (I even text with our property manager. We're both afraid of that awkward thing called a Phone Call.) I used to think escaping social media would give me stronger friendships in the real world. I think I just had the wrong perspective.

The internet is the real world. It can be serious and genuine, silly and fun. It is a place to build communities, and it doesn't have to interfere with "real life." I have real friends too. In fact, they're all real friends. I just have different ways of talking to them.

Word count: 792.

* I have always been active blogging and following/commenting on blogs, which some argue is a form of social media. Blogging is the bleed-through between traditional article-writing and news/opinion outlets and social media. It has the community of the latter, but the dominant informative voice of the former. Vlogging, which is even more community-oriented, may change that.