Keeping (on-line) Kindred Spirits: A Gift of Social Media?

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.

An approximation of The Feeling

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.

Would we get along over breakfast?

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.

Overstylized photo of my dog from Instagram.

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.

Virtual Tea Party?

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.

Just a window into my life (via Instagram- of course!)

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.

Thoughts?

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!

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19 thoughts on “Keeping (on-line) Kindred Spirits: A Gift of Social Media?

  1. Yes, yes! I often feel torn about social media – it’s so often criticized for being too shallow, too invasive, too time-consuming, and yet there are people I’ve either met virtually or kept in touch with through social media and I’m so grateful for those connections.

    That said; if we didn’t have social media would we just go to more dinner parties or “salons” as in the days of Oscar Wilde to have stimulating conversations with new people? Maybe those thoughts that end up in blog form now would simply go into long, thoughtful letters to one another. Maybe social media is just a vehicle or the same things we humans have been doing for many, many years, and it’s simply a method that suits us best right now.

    At any rate, I too am grateful for the blogs and the Facebook updates, the old and new friends met and kept in touch with in this strange, new(ish) world.

    • Even with social media, I’d love to go to more salons and dinner parties; the problem in my case is that all the brilliant people live too far away!! And as for letters, what that would mean is that I would probably only be able to invest in a few people, and forget about community, it would be an intimate one on one. I think we just have to picky with what we ‘socially network with’. and with whom.

  2. I absolutely ADORE this post…my eyes glued to the screen, yet feeling like it was a conversation. You so perfectly, and so eloquently, and so full of insight, put into words what I have tried to convey to my husband and others not connected via social media. I kept nodding all while reading, thinking, ‘yes, yes, yes!’ From the notion of over perfected posts, to would we really connect in person, to being more eloquent in our writing than in person, to finding kindred souls we would have otherwise missed..yes to all. I think I have mixed feelings about how people choose to use social media, not the media itself. Brilliant post..so glad to have come across you!

    • Thank you! I think that’s an important discussion- the form vs. how we choose to use the form. That behind the technology is a live kicking human being. And I’m really thrilled that i’ve been able to come ‘thru’ all the wires!!

  3. You so perfectly put words to so many thing I have thought about, wondered about and questioned. What a wonderful post! I have often struggled with FB and Twitter because I find them so limiting but when I started blogging I felt like I was home. The ability to share so much, to be free and open and accepted in that way has been amazing. Life is so fast now – on the rare occasions when I get to see friends it’s filled with unfinished conversations and interrupted thoughts – but when I read what people have written it seems more whole – and more truthful. I’m so glad to have found a group of kindred spirits (and I think about you too!). Whether I ever get to meet any of them in person is immaterial – they have touched my life still, even if only from a distance.

    • This morning I read your post about contentment. You get it. You get us. The blog is clearly working for you, and I’m really pleased to have you hear. More whole. More truthful. Yes, it’s like despite all the sped up time, and how the media form implies a hastening of life, the blogging let’s us slow things down a little to be a little more complete.

  4. “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.” YES. THIS. Oh, I was nodding along to this! I definitely don’t agree with some of my friends’ online branding choices (all wedding photos all the time!!!) … of course, the flip side is, for all I know, they may not agree with mine! So interesting to think about!

    • that was the scary part as I was writing this. Turning all my thoughts back on my self and what I’m putting out there. I suppose that’s healthy too. And at least, we’re conscious of it. I wonder how many people are. Thanks for reading!

  5. BeZ, I so very much agree. There is a photo hanging in my hallway of the two of us at high tea in lower Manhattan, at a moment when we were really just getting to know each other (outside of disorganized staff meetings around a smudged wood table and side-by-side computers and the noise and heat of endlessly running copy machines). I love that photo — it was a real-life moment of pink fireworks!, a particular moment when we were able to meet at a tea shop in the same city on the same afternoon. Really, though, I appreciate your Facebook updates (today: good job, husband), blog posts and pins just as much that little photo framed in white. These bits of language are a live feed of your life, and make me feel much more connected to you than I would if I only had that one moment in a tea shop to reflect on between the shower and the coffee pot each morning. Our virtual interaction is, in many ways, more robust, more personal and more honest than it could be without all these social outlets (would we talk on the phone about decorating your nursery as often as we can virtually discuss it on Pinterest? maybe?).

    When I was driving from New York to Montana by myself a year or so ago, I fell in really badly love with Facebook. I was in a hotel room outside of Chicago after my first long and lonely day of driving, ready to get six hours of sleep before driving again, and I posted something on my Facebook page to the effect of, ‘Day 1 and all Rolling Stones albums down. What to queue up for tomorrow’s playlist?’ Suddenly, people from all areas of my life — childhood babysitters, newly-made friends left behind in New York, college buddies in Montana, cousins, the girls I would watch Dirty Dancing with late at night in middle school in Hawai’i — were all commenting, offering their suggestions and well-wishes for my drive. And I remember distinctly the feeling of NOT BEING ALONE. A beautiful thing, indeed.

    • I remember that facebook update of yours. Thinking of you crossing your huge country. I am so glad people filled your ears with melody. I would have suggested cheesy pop songs, which I think you are far too sophisticated for (full disclosure: I flew half across the world to see the new kids on the block reunite..).
      Perhaps I have an idealic perception of your life where you are, and maybe that’s okay. But I love the live feed to your life too and while I would totally relish the opportunity to get back stage too, I count my lucky stars to receive what I do.

      ah tea party… I need another one of those.

  6. I’m not somebody who loves social media. I lurk on Facebook. My Twitter account has recently been hacked by someone spreading porn (really, seriously! – I use twitter so rarely that I only know because my sister, who is my only follower, told me). And while I love blogging, I do it more for myself than for connection (I’d better – you, BEZ, are my only reader). Part of what I don’t like is that I am not a good writer. I never feel like who I am comes through in my written word. That being said, when you wrote, ‘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.’ I absolutely understood. There is a renewed richness to our friendship, that was missing for years, all because we blog. I’m so grateful for that.

    • twitter porn? who knew?
      I am glad you blog for yourself, and I love that insight into your life, and one day your girls will be truly truly grateful for whatever documentation you offer too. I have a whole bunch of letters that my grandma and my mom and my uncle used to write- really hardly much of anything and yet, they are probably one of my best possessions for what it reveals that I was not there to see.
      It’s interesting to me that you think you don’t come across on the written word. I think you do, or part of you does, if not the whole. And maybe because I know you, I add it to the mix of ingredients that make up Flapper Pie. We were never girls who only filled in seventeen mag quizzes (though we did that too!), we discussed stuff. And so here we are at it again, but in another forum. And whatever you think of what you write, I learn from it, from you, as always.

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