Social Media and the Validation of Existence

Life’s been kind of funny lately — putting people in places I would never expect to find them, prodding at the void left by people I hoped would be there forever, presenting me with some interesting career opportunities (among them — I just got my first experience teaching adults about social media last week, and it was overall a pleasant experience). So I guess in a lot of ways, my see-saw is balanced enough.

Comme ci, comme ça.

I’m a very stressed out person. When it came time to vote on senior class superlatives in high school, I was one of the final contenders for “Most-Stressed Senior Girl.” In the end, I was edged out, but stress still has a way of shutting me down. At the same time, it soothes me. I like being busy and I like the odds being stacked against me. I like the feeling of accomplishment when I can cross something off of my to-do list or when my emails are down to 0. I’ve been called an over-achiever. Really I’m just trying not to let my mind overtake me.

Most of all, I love when my mind is so occupied that I don’t have time to think about the things that are bothering me. And that’s what I’ve been doing. I’ve been keeping myself so busy that I can’t wait to go to sleep at night, and in many cases, I never remember my head hitting the pillow (impressive for someone who’s been dealing with insomnia on and off since fourth grade).

However, a combination of the nap I took earlier (owed to the fact that I’m sick for the fifth time in eight weeks) and paranoia (some shady characters who are known to steal things for drug money were caught looking in the windows of my car and discussing what is — was [it’s all been removed] — inside) has me awake now.

In the last year, I’ve restructured my life around social media as a career. I’ve made friends and grown my professional network. Every day, I spend hours emailing people, helping them however I can, chatting with them on Twitter. Professionally speaking, that’s all worked very well for me. And new things are on the horizon as we speak.

But I’m not very close to those people, as one rarely is when it comes to professional networks. My boss actually knows more about what’s going on in my life than most of my friends do — and this is probably my fault. There are a few friends I talk to regularly, but on the whole, I’ve been turning inward lately. Maybe it’s winter. Maybe I’m just changing. Maybe both.

My personal use of social media is something else though. This is a place where I realized I didn’t have to deal with myself or my issues if I could just keep posting passive-aggressive comments on Twitter. I could let that be my outlet for a while. I’d already been scaling my Facebook use back because, quite honestly, I’m suffering some Facebook Burnout. The more I keep turning inward, the more anxious I get about sharing my life online. Especially interesting because the Internet and its ability to allow me to connect with others has been part of the essence of my existence since 1997.

And therein lies the problem. For the last fifteen years, I’ve been letting the Internet do my dirty work for me because I could hide behind a screen. I could be myself because you weren’t going to judge me right to my face, so it wasn’t as scary.

As I’ve been trying to deal with life instead of broadcasting it (funny how this ends up being such a personal post, then), I’ve realized that even in its earliest stages — AOL chat rooms, AIM, message boards and LiveJournals — social media has become a way for me to validate my existence, especially as I feel so cut off from real life anymore, the majority of my friends scattered around different states.

And I’m not sure that I’m alone in that sentiment (since I’m in the habit of pointing out ironic asides, allow me to mention how you’re always but never alone on social media).

The fact that most of my relationships are sustained through social media and text messages is somewhat the norm, but it also drives me insane. I forget that not everyone lives in this Web 2.0 Bubble like I do. My feelings get hurt when people disappear on me, opting to spend their time in the real world. Regardless of where you are, no one likes feeling like they’ve been forgotten (or worse, discarded).

Part of me is probably just jealous. I miss having a life. I need that real world experience again. I need to see people and know that my friendships still exist offline too. Having a serious conversation about anything that means anything to you with someone on Google Chat will be the worst idea you’ve ever had. Just trust me on that so that someone of tremendous importance to you doesn’t end up starting to hate your guts across a Google platform.

When you’re 29 and everyone you know is settling down and you’re still living with your parents, it’s easy to feel like you exist in this world that’s so separate from everyone else.

Or maybe everyone feels that way about life in general.

A basic principle of social media is that, no matter who you are, you will spend a lot of time feeling like you’re talking to yourself. Lately it’s seemed to me that every social media interaction I’ve tried to have (or nearly every one) has been an annoyance to someone. I was sick of feeling like I was talking to myself even as I knew that it’s something to be expected. I suppose it’s not really a surprise, since I’ve been feeling like this in life too. Like a bull in a china shop. No matter which way you turn, you’re always breaking something or making a mess.

And I think that I may forever come back to my level of discomfort with being a constant. Friendship is a two-way street.

But something funny happened. When I let go of that need to validate my entire existence with an online presence, I started feeling calmer. I could think without all of the noise. I could prevent myself from jumping to any kind of action. And this is only a few days in.

What’s replaced it, though, I’m not sure is more positive. Sometimes I just really want to talk to someone in the evenings when work is done. Just to interact with other humans. This is difficult because the older I get, the harder it is for me to open up to people. So I keep internalizing and while I want to reach out, I suddenly feel largely uncomfortable doing so. Four of my friends were on Google Chat last night. I could and would have talked to any of them, but couldn’t bring myself to IM a single one, so sure was I that they would be annoyed by me, or worse, flat-out ignore me.

This is all ridiculous (“nonsense” to bring back a barbed term from my last post) because I know fine well that despite the fact that one person has all of these really negative opinions of me and may never want anything to do with me ever again, I have friends who care about me and don’t think I’m a monster and enjoy my company, neuroses and all.

A second principle of social media is that when you break through the silence, you find yourself in a comfortable place. And I guess that’s where I’m at with life right now. I’m in the middle and I just need to get through the silence.

And so I’ll leave this on those uncertain terms because that’s how my brain feels. I guess I assume it’s how all people with depression feel (at the mention of the d-word, I can feel eyes rolling), although I suspect everyone experiences it differently. And also because I don’t know what happens next, and I’m trying to be okay with that.

In the meantime, I’ve got a lengthy Stephen King book that, while it took just over 400 pages to remotely creep me out or stir up much mystery, and the language and jokes feel forced and thin, is at least giving me a place to stay occupied and lost.

A bientot.

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7 thoughts on “Social Media and the Validation of Existence

  1. It’s weird that we can put so much importance on the love/feelings of that one douchebag. I’ve done it too, and it’s like my brain or emotions don’t even register all of the wonderful people I have in my life, effort-free, who like me warts and all.
    What is it about the concept of ‘that one person’ ?(who it is has changed for me over the years, but there’s usually one of them on the scene…)
    Is it our lack of self-confidence showing itself as this bizarre, unattainable need for everyone to like us?
    If you find out, tell me, because my brain does the same thing.
    Also, totes call me! haha. I may cave and sign up for twitter. Mostly because I want to see what Steve Martin and Stephen Colbert say every day. But I can’t think of a cool-enough-for-the-non-existent-one-person name.
    And I hate the word ‘twitter’.
    Go brain twin!

    • Yes! And then I feel like an ungrateful jerk for the friends that I do have, but I’m so tied up in feeling upset about the one I apparently don’t. The one that, for almost an entire decade, I considered my very best friend. So I mean… that sucks. Haha. Maybe you’re onto something with that whole self-confidence thing.

      Do it. Sign up for Twitter. Call it something else if you must, but do it!

  2. Well if it was a whole decade, it’s probably going to take you a while to readjust. ‘Rome was not built’ and all.
    I really do have this deep down wish that everyone would like me and everything I say or do. Which is impossible. Rational me knows this. Way-down-there-me is taking forever to catch on. So strange, human brains.

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