Many moons ago in a land far far away, I had a friend named Tom. Now Tom was this really well-connected guy, he was friends with everyone and connected me to everyone on this website called myspace. I used to spend hours every day on myspace chatting to existing friends and making new ones. I customized my myspace page and built my first online “virtual” version of me. A persona that was carefully put together only showcasing the best of Jonathan, almost like a greatest hits’ compilation. While most would consider this the original social media platform, I tend to disagree. You see you probably need to rewind back a few more years to the 90s when we used to gather in IRC (Internet Relay Chat) rooms on servers based all around the world and chat with others who shared common interests, whether it be a room baring the name of the school you go to or a room whose subject matter was that of a type of music you listen to. There were rooms for everything. I remember rushing home from school and dialing into the internet to connect with my friends. This is probably where my unhealthy relationship with social media began. My need as a teenager to feel connected to others all while hiding behind a screen, keyboard, and mouse. Only sharing what I want and never letting my true self be known.
Fast forward a few years and companies like AOL and ICQ (I Seek You) took over from IRC to become the main messaging platforms. If you lived in the US, it was AOL Instant Messenger, while elsewhere it was ICQ. It was a whole new world of emojis, direct messaging with friends and a more engaging application that ultimately sucked me further into the virtual world. Everyone was on these platforms; cellphones were not a thing with teenagers and the closest to an iPhone you could get was a Palm Pilot. I know it was the dark ages, but we survived. It was that much more enjoyable having to wait 20min to download a single MP3 and play it through WinAMP. Let’s get back on point.
As more and more people went online, these apps became more and more popular and if you wanted to connect with someone, you needed to be on an AOL friends list or ICQ messenger list. Playground conversations didn’t end once the school bell rang, they continued online, and you didn’t want to miss out. My need like many others for being connected to others drove the desire to be online more and more. With these simple apps I was able to conduct multiple conversations at the same time with friends and family from all over the world. I no longer needed to pick up the phone or venture out if I didn’t want to.
Back to Tom and his space (myspace) he created in 2003 which went onto become the world largest social network generating more website visits than Google and Yahoo in 2008. Everyone was on myspace, most spending hours a day trying to friend as many people they knew as possible and even discovering new people. The more connections made, the more content you were exposed to, the more engaging it became which led to more time logged onto myspace. “Find me on myspace” or “check out my myspace page” became part of conversations wherever you went, similar to how “dm me on Instagram” or “watch me on TikTok” has become the norm today.
With the rise of Facebook, we saw the fall of myspace, and the new generation of SUPER SOCIAL MEDIA platforms started invading our lives. Facebook created this incredible platform that was so engaging that billions of people felt it to be the norm to upload every aspect of their personal lives online for everyone to see (unless you went through the trouble of securing your profile). We now had this place where we could live a parallel life, a better life for all to see. Online we could be the happiest trouble-free person we always dreamt to have. I was guilty of this, go on one hike a year, post some pics and all of a sudden, I am an adventurous nature lover. Take a few snaps at a fancy restaurant I shouldn’t be going to, and the world thinks I am a baller living it up. The crazy thing is, it’s not Facebook’s fault, we can’t blame them, it’s our need as people to receive validation and positive feedback that drives us to share. The more fun, shocking, aspirational, motivational the post is the more engagement and likes it receives, the more you receive the more you are motivated to post, regardless, if you are feeling happy or can afford to create the content to share. Our online personas rarely reflect what is really going on in our lives. Happy anniversary pics shared with the world don’t necessarily represent all the hard work, arguing and stress that’s involved with keeping a relationship together.
7 Years ago, I decided to remove myself from Facebook, not just log out and delete the app but delete my profile. This was technically a feat, they didn’t make it easy, but I did it. I was tired of scrolling through feeds every few minutes to see what’s new in my 500+ “friends” lives. I don’t currently nor have I ever had 500 friends, maybe 20 total. I also realized I am not really interested in knowing what Roger and Cathy from Pre-K are doing on their summer vacation or where they went to dinner last night. I know found myself with a lot more time on my hands, a quieter mind and no longer feeling like I am missing out on what others have, are doing or are feeling. I no longer had an online version of me. With that I also had a lot less “friends” and when my birthday came around that first year a lot less Happy Birthday’s which sucked a little, but I survived. However, when I did bump into people in the real world, they were genuinely interested in what was going on with me and those who are my real friends keep in contact.
I would like to be clear, social media is not bad and that when used in moderation it can be a really fun form of entertainment, an excellent source of information and a good way to connect with people. I just want to make my point, and these are my feelings.
WE DO EXIST in the OFFLINE world, and we should try and be more present OFFLINE. Enjoy the walk on the beach, hike on the mountain, anniversary dinner and kids’ birthdays. Take the pictures and save them to loopback on. If you feel you want to share the moment with others, try this for a change. Invite your friends to join in offline.