How We Got Social Media All Wrong

It was supposed to be for somebody, now it’s for everybody.

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By Anthony N. White

I was listening to some music the other day when I realized that we got social media all wrong. The song was Waiting for Somebody by Paul Westerberg, a song from the Singles Soundtrack and something that most people probably wouldn’t remember. It’s a good track and one that Westy reportedly wrote for someone else, which makes it all the more interesting with such an aptly named title. But it got me thinking about the difference between “Somebody” and “Some body,” and I suddenly thought I solved the problem of social media.

Social media gives us the opportunity to look into the lives of people who we wouldn’t normally have the chance to. A famous football player gives you a shot of their off-season routines, a singer shows off where they vacation or an actress gives you a glimpse of the inside of their house is the type of thing that, only a few decades ago, was nothing more than a pipe dream. Even rarer was to actually communicate directly with someone who is famous; but social media gives us that opportunity. But when you ask people why they have social media, they hardly ever say that this is the reason they are social media users.

The reason most commonly given is that it’s “easy to keep up with friends and family.” But it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy; if everyone is on social media, then it’s easy to keep up with them. What if no one you knew was on social media? Would there still be a reason to be on it? The answer from most people would probably be no. But that’s not the whole story either. That’s because not everyone is somebody on social media. Even outliers that you barely know will allow you access to their personal lives, just like celebrities, and now you have the opportunity to see where they eat, vacation, and what their backyard looks like.

It’s voyeurism at its best, because you don’t actually have to sneak around. We get to do this right out in the open. But these are not celebrities. They’re people you either know very well or wish you knew well, so instead of going ahead and making some body a somebody, we do the opposite and keep them at bay, a mere pixeled figure on a 4G screen, drawing a divide between us and them, just like we do with celebrities. “That’s their life, not mine. I get to see it because I want to.”

But we got it all wrong, and it’s causing us to be miserable and alone; but we don’t want to admit that, because doing so would be going against the façade we’ve built online, to make sure that the other people spying on ourselves think we’ve got it made. Admission of the truth about one’s life on social media is only for intermittent disaster, a way to seek out free empathy, a temporary distraction and comfort from reality because tomorrow it will be back to posting something interesting, something that shows you pulled through.

TV and Radio personality Scott Van Pelt one time said, “treat celebrities like every day people, and every day people like celebrities.” This is good advice to live by on a day to day basis, especially with social media. If any one of us had the opportunity to have the personal cell phone of our favorite celebrity and their permission to call them whenever we wanted, I’m sure most of us would jump at the chance. Most of us have close relatives and friends’ phone numbers already, but we wait to use social media to “connect” with them. We’re deteriorating our own personal relationships in order to continue our voyeurism, our fascination with somebody’s, our strange way to make ourselves somebody too.

But in our constant innate search for the comfort of a somebody has got us reaching out to anybody, deflecting the personal relationship of a few that are most important for the temporary empathy or comfort of many as if the tiny bit of comfort from many is equivalent to the large amounts of comfort from a few. These are not the same thing. But it’s hard to rationalize that when everyone else around you is doing the same. It becomes normal.

So, the result is that we end up like the song by Paul Westerberg, spending all our life “waiting for somebody.”

This story was previously published on The Good Men Project.

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