There is lots of discussion about the flaws of social media going around these days, but few seem to be talking about what I believe is the main source of a vast majority of the frustration of our encounters online:
We have a tendency view everything we see and read online in the context of how it relates to ourselves.
Hear me out –
You’re at a friend’s house sitting around the kitchen table and the topic turns to something that doesn’t relate to your life. It doesn’t matter what it is, maybe a stressful parenting situation when you don’t have any kids, or a trick that’s helping her with productivity that you don’t need at all since you’ve mastered your schedule down to science.
How do you handle it?
Do you constantly interject every single time something is brought up in the conversation that doesn’t directly apply to you?
Conversation is about connecting. And sometimes that means we’re just there for someone, letting them tell us about their life and where they are.
But just imagine how popular a person would be if every time the conversation at a party turned towards something that didn’t directly relate to them they loudly announced to the person speaking and everyone listening that this conversation does nothing for them because it doesn’t relate to their lives.
Usually this doesn’t happen in person, however, because we are there with the speaker. We are present. We are with that person soaking in the back and forth rhythm of our chat. It doesn’t occur to us to constantly expound on how their experiences don’t relate to us, because when someone is right there with us, we are turned towards them figuratively and literally.
Now of course chatting will naturally leads to back and forth. Differences and how we handle them often times come up in the course of a conversation with a friend. I’m not talking about that here.
But the reaction of picking apart everything others say and seeing how we relate to it is something we can encounter online literally all. day. long. Because when it’s just us and a screen, we usually turn towards ourselves.
Whether it’s something I post about here on my blog/social media or something I see others posting about in an online group, forum, or comment section… people love to let everyone know that something doesn’t apply to them.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve shared a bulk meal prep or grocery haul to only get comments from mothers of much larger families who can’t relate to the amount I cooked or purchased.
“That’s bulk for you? Hah! That wouldn’t feed my gang even once!” Thanks. Now all of my hard work instantly feels like nothing since they do that every day.
Or how about sharing a frustration or cross of being a mom to two little people. Nothing makes you feel about 2 feet tall when someone lets you know these are just the little problems, and once they’re teenagers you will really know what the crosses of motherhood are. My tears and exhaustion and frustrations don’t count until later I guess.
And comment sections these days! Forums, blogs, Facebook groups… When someone posts asking for advice or information, more often than not I see people not even answering the question asked in the first place, but instead sharing how this wouldn’t apply to them somehow. They’ll go through the comments and engage everyone who doesn’t agree with them. Great, we all get this doesn’t apply to you… but how does that help the poster?
I remember once asking advice in a group on which feeding to taper off next when I was gradually weaning Philomena. It was a long, beautiful, slow process over a year, always taking into account where our family was, how she was handling things, and what I could take. Even though she was almost 3 years old as I was tapering down to a last feeding, a woman in the group just insisted it was wrong to wean, that I had no reason I couldn’t nurse totally on demand, and she went through the whole post arguing with everyone else. Just because total on demand tandem nursing worked for her, it MUST work for everyone else, and by golly we were going to know about it!
The internet has a way of turning us inward, and not in an introspective manner that helps us grow and develop based on knowledge of self.
No, its a turning inward that makes it easy for us to filter everything online through lenses of how does this matter or relate to me. That product wouldn’t work me. I couldn’t do that in my home. That method/plan/idea doesn’t apply to me…
Okay, that’s fine.
When someone is sharing online they know that, outside of moral absolutes, what they have to say can’t possibly apply to everyone. But that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be able to share or ask.
I recently read a fascinating book called Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age by Sherry Turkle. (Find it here on Amazon– I highly recommend it!) In it Sherry describes all of the ways that we are literally losing the art of conversation because of our use of screens.
While there are many factors contributing to the frightening deterioration of connection due to technology, over and over she talks of being removed from others, even if they’re sitting next to us, and only being present with ourselves and whoever we are interacting with on a screen.
It all seems to boil down to the internet making it easy to only focus on ones self.
Like I talked about in this post here about people being mean online – when it’s just us and our screens it’s very easy to dehumanize the people on the other side of them, thus not seeing them for who they are. Everything easily becomes about us, and what others are doing or feeling doesn’t matter.
So over the last year I’ve learned there is a grace in just scrolling past.
I’m not saying to never stand up for what is right online, when it comes to actual right and wrong, but for the little piddly stuff, its so freeing to just let go and move on.
I’m challenging you to take a step back before you knee-jerk reply to someone else online this week.
Is what you are typing contributing to conversation, or just announcing how this doesn’t relate to you?
Would you have the same response if you were sipping a coffee next to them on a bench at the park?
Don’t let the screen turn everything into something about you. (And hey, I know I have been this person many a time, so it goes for me as much as everyone else!)
Let’s try to screens as best as we can – not as a reflective mirror always pointed to ourselves, but a tool to connect with others and make the conversation online one of value and growth.