Does it ever end? – Social Media and interpersonal relationships

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The internet is THE best thing that ever happened to me: it has made my world so much bigger than it was. Simultaneously, it has made the things in this bigger world more easily accessible. I think it’s amazing how I can effortlessly find the information I need, have access to archives, and reach out to and keep in contact with people and institutions from all over the world. I definitely don’t want to return to the pre-internet days.

Every good thing has it’s downsides, and unfortunately those downsides have increased over the last few years. I’m not going to discuss (important!) matters like data breaches, the rise of fake news, those painful moments when you realise somebody you thought was great turns out to adhere to, uhm, unsympathetic ideologies to say the least, and of course the increase of FOMO-related problems, because all these things have been discussed more thoroughly and in depth by other people. I want to talk about how the internet, and more specifically, Social Media, has completely changed the way we interact with each other.

Social Media, aided by smart phones/wifi/4G, has created a world in which it is not only possible to be in constant contact with each other, but in which this is now “normal”. Then there is the disappearance of boundaries within human interaction: people, apparently unaware that the internet is not your diary, post the most intimate things, that you as their “friend” get to read, even if you’re actually not a real friend at all.

Oftentimes it’s not so much the information that’s TMI, but it’s information that – to me at least – feels too close for the type of relationship I have with that person: 20 years ago I would have never known that this person that I saw once a week for six weeks during a course, has a relationship, what that person they have a relationship with looks like, where they went on holiday, what that holiday spot looked like, which bathing suits and other stuff they bought, where they work, what their hairdresser looks like, what their mother in law looks like, what their cat looks like, and any other detail about their life that you can think of.

Nowadays, I know more about people I’ve met once or twice than I used to know about my best friends 20 years ago. This gets to me more and more as time goes by.

Because what am I expected to do with all this information? I might be very old fashioned, but since I’ve been given this info, I feel like some response is expected of me: do I like, do I not like, do I comment, do I scroll on? I have no idea. Because while this is a perfectly nice person – and I do feel bad stating it so bluntly – I don’t really care about all their life details. I just don’t. Because we’re not friends, have never been friends, and also aren’t future friends: we are two people who, except for having taken the same course at one time, have absolutely nothing in common. And we’ll probably never run into each other ever again either.

Back in the day, this was perfectly fine. As soon as you moved, or switched jobs, or graduated, this kind of relationship would end automatically. You would maybe run into each other once or twice and then quickly catch up, but most of the times you’d never see each other again and that was just the way it was. Nowadays however, and this is what I hate most about the internet in general and Social Media in particular, this type of obviously “a certain time, place and/or activity”-related contact doesn’t end organically anymore.

Actually, NO relationship ever ends organically anymore, because there’s Social Media. All the people who just stopped being a part of my life at some point because that’s just how life is, now have a way to get back in touch through Social Media, and some do. And all the people that I have nicely (and sometimes not so nicely) asked to no longer be a part of my life anymore, either think a new Social Media platform is an excellent time to rekindle our contact (it’s not!) or get introduced to me by the Social Media platform itself: “You might know this person”. Yeah, I do. And I wish I didn’t, thank you very much.

Sure, I have the option of unfollowing people, not following them (back) or blocking them, but that still means I have to think about them: isn’t unfriending a bit of a harsh thing to do to somebody that I don’t dislike, but also don’t particularly have any interest in? And what if I run into this person at a later time? (Job interview, anyone?) I don’t think “I unfollowed you because I hardly know you and could not be bothered to give a hoot about your stories about your mother in law” goes over well.

And those people from way back when, who I think are perfectly nice people, but with whom I don’t have anything in common anymore? You know, the type of person that, when you run into them on the street, you have those awkward conversations with that usually end with a variation of “It was great to see you! I have to run, gotta pick up the dog from kindergarten!”? What do I do with those people? I don’t feel the need to follow them (back), but ignoring them feels like a harsh rejection.

I of course immediately block the people I actively removed from my life, but they then do pop up in my head (way) more often than in the time before. Sometimes being confronted with certain people opens up old wounds, that take a while to heal again. Because one of those “So and so wants to follow you”-messages might be generated with one (thoughtless) click, they do feel very invasive once they show up in my inbox at two thirty at night.

Having to regularly reevaluate relationships that were already over a long time ago, takes energy. There are probably people who don’t care about all this as much as I do, but having to either be confronted with heaps of messages from people that aren’t actually part of your life anymore by following them, or having to unfollow and block people on the regular (with all the potential “Why did you unfollow me?”-drama that that brings) does take energy. I would not be surprised if this energy sucking dynamic also turns out to be a reason for the increase in (young) people who feel like they can’t keep up with life anymore.

“If it’s that much of an issue, just quit Social Media!” I’d love to. But I literally can’t: studies, internships and jobs quite explictly force me to have certain Social Media accounts. Without them, I don’t have access to certain necessary information. Not being on Social Media in 2018 is often not an option anymore.

“Well, if that’s the case, why complain about it? People living in small villages are stuck having to deal with the same people over and over throughout their lives!” Exactly. Why do you think I moved to Amsterdam at the first chance I got and will stay here until I am the last local standing among all the tourists?

“So what do you want?” I don’t know. I have no solutions. For years, I’ve been hoping and wishing that Facebook would fold. I also hope that people will at one point in time stop entering and maintaining interpersonal relationships that are in fact nothing more than the virtual equivalent of the obligatory yearly Christmas card – but on the daily. I hope that we can get to a point that we can honestly admit to ourselves and others that we are not made to have 4000 “friends”. I hope that we’ll be able to realise that it is just a natural part of life to not stay in touch with most people we (semi-)casually meet, and that that’s ok. I hope that one day we’ll be able to accept that not wanting to stay in touch doesn’t have to mean that you hate each other. And I mostly hope that I have correctly blocked each and every person I actively don’t want in my life anymore, so that I don’t get emails alerting me to their existence on the various Social Media platforms that I’m on.

I am of course very curious if anyone reading this recognises any of it? Or do you have a completely different opinion on this? Does anyone have any tips and/or personal experiences? Or is this just a part of everybody’s life in this day and age and do I just have to learn to live with it?

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Next week it’s time for an interview with Esther! See you on Wednesday!