A few times this week, I’ve been struck with this little shiver. Okay, maybe not a shiver, maybe more like a flutter. It happened when I read this blog, and then this one, and this one and this one too.
The first is a woman I met briefly while in school and only discovered when school had ended that we had an inordinate amount in common and were both heading off to live abroad over on The Continent. The second is a student I taught last year, who seemed remarkably introspective and curious, reminded me a little of myself 15 years ago, (except she’s far more articulate than I was then) who is chronicling her semester abroad in Paris. The last two, well I’ve never met them, but I find myself, after reading their posts, wondering about their lives beyond the blog, lived so close to and yet so far from mine.
Here is the feeling. It goes something like: oh wow, if only we’d met earlier, under different circumstances, were in the same city, had more time, there would be bouquets of balloons and pink fireworks and lots of cake! Or: what a wonderful world is your mind. Can I climb on board? That feeling doesn’t happen to me that often.
And it’s not just them. It’s worth mentioning that La Zuccheriera and I met in person for only a year, really, and only by the end of that year did I realize who I was leaving behind. And now that we live in separate countries, I take great pleasure in getting to know her through her Pinterest, and Mother Sugar, of course. And then there are those I’ve virtually ‘met’ who I think about, worry about, hope for.
The feeling is admittedly, bittersweet. There’s a sense of ‘what if’, ‘if only’, something wistful. Like one might have missed a kindred spirit. And it occurred to me that it is only thanks to the world of social networking and blogging that I am given the opportunity to experience all this marvelousness.
I know there’s an ongoing discussion out there about social networking, and to what extent we truly reveal ourselves. Often that discussion is about how Facebook and Twitter and whatnot allows us to brand ourselves, advertise a high gloss version of ourselves to the world. We put together a highlight reel of good, lovely things as if to say, Yes! This is the Essence of My Life. Right. Now.
Now there are good posts about how much information is too much (or too little), or how narcissistic and manufactured we become when we instagram our lives. Other people have opined on that far more articulately than I’m prepared to do. What’s interesting to me is how as result of this sort of ‘branding’ or condensation, I find I have friends who I love in life but can’t stand on Facebook, who only post about television shows or music videos I don’t care a wit about. I have friends who without the fullness of their whole personality come across as trite or superficial when only given 140 words. There are those friends, who if I base my whole feeling about them on the basis of their instagram photos, I either groan with their perpetual perfection, or alternatively, am captivated by the world through their eyes (how was I supposed to know my macho banker guy friend, could see all that he sees, so cleverly, the way he does?).
Does social media condense ourselves, and if so what part of ourselves, and is that self any less authentic? Does it reveal us as we want to be seen, as we hope to be seen, or does it actually show who we really are? Does it really allow for true connection? And do we really have as much control over it as we hope?
I am not sure the answers are that straightforward. Just as a film or a book never gets 100% the same reaction (let’s not talk about a certain shade of Grey), we interpret what we see. And I think people are grand enough for the contradictions. Look, who knows, maybe the person you’re reading here you like (or don’t), but maybe you would feel differently if we met in person. Because of the handbag I carried, or the way I spoke to the waiter. Maybe my instagram account is too much of a performance platform, my facebook updates too cryptic a puzzle. Maybe you’d hate me if you worked with me, loved me if we went for high tea. That’s just how people are.
But it happens that I live in a place where it’s not that easy to make friends, where deep conversation doesn’t always happen (especially when my husband is away), and having the opportunity to skype, facebook, pin, or blog opens my world in a whole new way. I have also discovered that I’m not half as eloquent in person as I seem to be in the written word. Not as candid, honest, or brave.
I have old dear friends who happen to live far, but because I read their blogs and blog in turn, we’ve been able to deepen our relationship, despite our distance. It’s amazing how close you can feel to someone through their DIY projects or their ongoing corporate politics, if you know them already; if what you need is some fill in the blank. And the truth is, if we were in the same room, we might spend too much time doing the broad catch up; you know, overarching statements that all is good, the kids are fine, work is busy. Because that’s all true. But when you’re far away and you really want to be part of someone’s life, sometimes it’s those details, those 140 words, that one photograph, that closes the distance.
It’s the same thing with those kindred spirits I mentioned before. Through the social media world, we bypass a lot of the superficial ‘get to know you’ that has to happen in real life; we get a little rabbit hole short cut into someone’s (well crafted) intimate thoughts. Maybe if we’d had enough time, under the right circumstances, with enough chocolate, we’d have figured it out in person too. But I’m grateful to have been given a second chance at learning about someone because social networking allows it. And as for the bloggers I’ve never met, whose path I would not have crossed without blogging at all, well, we will never be able to walk our dogs together, cook together. But in blog land we find each other. And that’s quite something.
In fact, the only total loss has been those friends of mine who don’t social network at all. Because from them I know nothing. And that’s tragic.
I don’t know about you, but I started blogging not solely to read myself think, or be read, but because I wanted to hear from others. That’s why Mother Sugar is collective; it’s more exciting to me to see what the other gals have written, what I learn about them, than it is to share what’s going on with me. What I didn’t know is that along the way I’d meet more women whose lives I have become acquainted with and who, through their experience, help me understand life (my own, theirs) a little better, a bit more consciously. If any thing, I wish there were more comments, more discussion.
Social networking land is a window, imperfect perhaps, but still revealing. The one who is flaky on facebook, or too controlled in what she shows, still reveals something true. Just as the insights we have, as we have them, as we express them on blogs or twitter unearths some part of ourselves. We just have to remember it’s a window, a glimpse; and there’s a whole room, a house, a castle besides.
But personally, I think, should you find yourself in a situation where you are gifted with that feeling, that lovely aha!, when social media offers you a bird’s eye view into someone’s heart and it’s one that speaks to you, that you connect with, that’s just a gift. Don’t puzzle it. Just take it, enjoy it.
And offer a comment or two.
PS: Mother Sugar was recently given the Very Inspiring Blogger award from Defining Wonderland. We are tickled pink, blue and every other color of the rainbow! But rather than nominate other blogs, which we have done before, we’d encourage you to check out some of the one’s referenced in the post. Who knows, maybe you’ll find some kindred spirits of your own!