Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Social Networking Anxiety

You've heard of Social Anxiety.  But what about Social Networking Anxiety?

The possibility that I had Social Networking Anxiety first flitted across my mind when I signed up for Facebook.  As I chronicled here, I felt immediately that Facebook was too much for me.  Too much information, too much immediacy, too many minute decisions to be made about how to interact with people. 

I said to myself, "Facebook, it's not me, it's you.  You're the one trying to ferret out where I went to school a million years ago -- what's it to you, Mister Aggressive?  You're the one with the conversation skills of a two-year-old -- I mean, who doesn't know that putting funny pet pictures next to reflections on national tragedies is in poor taste?  You're the one with the gall to pick on my poor friends for not having a wide enough social circle -- you think I didn't notice that plaintive and pathetic call to 'help So-and-So find his friends?'" 

I'll have you know that So-and-so is an interesting, personable, and savvy guy.  He's just not that into you.  So you don't have to act all superior.

Then I met Google Plus, or as he likes to be called, Google+.  He's like Facebook, but with a little more social tact, a little more reserve, a little more cool.  He doesn't try to push stuff down your throat, but kind of lets you take the lead.  More of a gentleman, I guess.  And we're definitely getting along better. 

Still, I retain a feeling that social Networking is too much Social and too much Networking for me.  The other day I saw a post by an old friend -- something innocuous and nice, and there was a comment by a person I haven't communicated with in over twenty years.  My mind was filled with highly charged emotive thoughts.  Warmth:  remembering this person and how cool they were when I spent time with them.  Guilt:  that I never do anything to keep in touch.  Fear:  that I'd be called on to say something kind and warm and thoughtful, something that could reach across the decades to show I still care.  Dread:  because honestly, I don't really like communicating with people I never see and I'm not close to, and I don't want to do it. 

All this mixed together with a longing to just log out and get back to what I'd been doing before. 

When it comes to posting, profiles, and all that, I fear being That Person.  You know, the one who posts "Just got back from my interview with MSNBC! Heading off to Nobu!"  Or That Other Person, the one who is always posting about their involvement with some super-cool, totally unknown band.  Not that I ever do those things, but you know what I mean.  And if you're not one of Those People, what are you?  Just living a boring life, out there on the web for all to see?

I used to think Social Networking Anxiety was very rare, and I was almost the only person who had it.  Because almost everyone uses Facebook.  But then I started to notice something odd. 

Because I work in a University, and go to a lot of coffee shops, I often walk by people engaged in actual Social Networking.  I mean, I catch a glimpse of their laptop screens, and more than anything those screens say "FACEBOOK" and the person is staring intently at a list of tiny pictures with tiny bits of text next to them.   

And these people Social Networking, how do they look?  Do they look happy? 

No.  In fact, their faces are often masks of anxiety.  They look pained.  They look nervous.  They look like they're measuring out their lives with the measuring tape of other people's success.  Oh, look.  So-and-So was interviewed by MSNBC.  Um, cool. 

So now I think Social Networking Anxiety isn't one of those rare dysfunctions.  I think it's more like a Silent Killer Epidemic.  What it's going to do to all of us I don't know.  But assuming we keep social networking, and I'm sure we will, whatever it is will not be good. 

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