As I write this blog post, I am a little inebriated. There is some madness to the method and some method to the madness. The alcohol occurred as a byproduct of a fairly irrelevant social obligation to a friend, but a long (and probably irritating) rambling conversation with my wife triggered something of a revelation about internet usage for me.
I have a theory about the popularity of social media amongst adults: we use it because we want to talk about the things we think about and care about. But we want to do so without irritating or offending the people in our real world lives that we care about.
One great example from my own life: I sometimes spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about my high school and college years. Days of youth and experimentation, drunkenness and wild drama llamas.
I really want to talk to about many of these events and people with others, because I am still to this day fascinated by many of them. They are sociological puzzles, and my mind likes puzzles. Why did this person behave like this? How did they (or didn’t they) change with time? How did this event 15 years ago contribute to who this person is today?
My wife doesn’t care. And, to be fair, why should she? She’s as fascinated by intellectual puzzles as the next nerd…but these people mean nothing to her. They are a dizzying array of names and places and events all wrapped up in drunken memory, nostalgia and might-have-beens.
So, I want to discuss my thoughts, and ponder the imponderables, and think on how these people were reflections of the society of the time, their parents, their schooling and so forth. It fascinates me. But I don’t want to bore my wife to tears.
So I write a blog. I talk on a forum. I fire off only vaguely comprehensible missiles on social media. I suspect – though I have little proof other than some intellectual puzzle solving – that this is ultimately why so many of us “waste time” on these mediums, too.
We want to be wanted. We want to talk to others who think like us, and nerd like us and care about what we care about. We want our past to mean something and our future to hold hope and promise. And as much as we love, respect and admire our friends, family and loved ones…few of us ever find that perfect combination of individuals in our real lives that share an interest in all of the bizarre aspects of our personality.
Social media is the 21st century equivalent of howling our loneliness at the moon and seeking relevance in the tedium of our existence. It is a lifetime of missed opportunity, sexual frustration, confusion, misunderstanding, screw-ups, mistakes, successes and triumphs. It is our emotions of the moment mixed with curiosity and the desire for validation. It is a social lubricant even if the only we’re trying to disinhibit is our own selves; to allow ourselves to think the thoughts that bother and fascinate us.
We like to think that as adults we are so much more put together than we were when we were kids. But somewhere deep inside us there is a scared, confused teenager trying to figure out what to do with everything from impulses and instincts to thoughts about hypocrisy and questioning authority.
We turn to the internet as a place that seemingly has no consequence…even if we know better. The people we talk to are avatars. Names, but not faces. They come and they go; if we offend one group, there are a billion more to choose from.
Being an adult is about having learned what not to say and to whom we must not say things. Social media is the pressure valve; the outlet for all that we suppress. That’s why we love it. That’s why we hate it. That’s why we’re ashamed of it. And that’s why we can’t give it up.