When I was in college, “Social Media” as it exists now didn’t really well, exist. In fact, on my very first day of college, when I sat down to email my family, I realized I really had no idea how to email people. By the time I got to be a junior and senior, pretty exciting things were going on. Livejournal was born. Amazing technology like AOL Instant Messenger and ICQ was the big rage. I mean, I could talk to my friends over summer vacation without jogging up a big phone bill. Amazing! But Twitter, Facebook, blogging? Eh. Hadn’t really caught on, at least not in the circles I was in.
I am really thankful for that.
A lot of my time in college was spent getting to know people. We’d have long talks that would start at midnight and really get going around 3 or 4. Sometimes a person would ping me via IM or via our campus’s broadcast system and ask if I was awake. When I’d say yes I’d hear a light knock on my door and we’d start talking about whatever was bothering them.
I wonder if college kids do that as much now.
As I got to know and talk to more and more people, I realized there was a pattern that I identified as the “3 AM conversation.” After awhile going over sort of trivial things, often times, due to fatigue or who knows what else, people would suddenly start talking about things that they didn’t normally talk about. I’d find out that this person I knew had been abused as a child. Maybe they had tried to kill themselves. Maybe a past girlfriend or boyfriend had been lost due to suicide. Maybe they had had health problems when they were young. And I would share my stuff too. We’d sit there and talk about all of this pretty heavy stuff, give each other a hug, and then either finally go to sleep or decide to take a 5 AM trip to McDonalds.
Everyone, even the people who seemed the happiest, had a 3 AM conversation topic.
Nowadays, with the capacity to share everything and anything with hundreds or even thousands of people, I wonder if people still have these 3 AM conversations. I wonder if people still feel ok about sitting down with a friend and saying, “Hey, look, this is on my mind.” I wonder if people still feel like it’s cool to unburden themselves in an environment where they know the worst that will happen is they’ll be surrounded with knowing glances and possibly Chicken McNuggets.
Sure, with a blog post you can reach a lot of people, but I’ve noticed something about those really personal blog posts. No matter how much they may break my heart, no matter how much I care about the blogger, it’s not the same. Sitting there and typing how much you care about that person in a little dialog box is not the same. Even writing an email, which is more personal, is not the same. When someone is lifting up a bandaid, you don’t want to keep them waiting for 7 hours while they wait to see if anyone cares. And what is the right response, anyway? I’m never sure. Do I pour my own heart out in a comment box? Do I say everything I want to say, like, “Wow, I can’t believe that happened to you because you are so dear to me”? Do I let it pass and figure that the person probably feels better now that they got that off their backs? Do I share the post, which always seems to demean the importance of it?
Can you differentiate the really good listeners when you get comments on a blog post that is about something painful? Can you distinguish between the caring people and the people who want to get noticed on a post they feel will get a lot of attention?
Do you know that I would really listen if we were face-to-face and you were having a problem?
Technology is amazing. The blogging experience is amazing. But I’m not sure I can be happy about blogging replacing those 3 AM conversations. Even if, in my old and wizened 30s, 3 AM may now be, like, 1 AM. I worry that the authors of these personal blog posts will be left feeling empty because getting comments is not the same as getting immediate in-person feedback and understanding. I worry that I will become immune to such posts because I don’t hear the voice. I don’t see facial expressions. I just see words and whatever mood I care to reflect onto them.
I guess I just want to say that while a lot of people are using the online world to call for help, that may not be the only or the best pathway. Even though it’s hard, calling someone, skyping, “hanging out” on G+….these things may be better if you’re having a hard time. Getting that immediate response, that personal response, without all of the “social media crap” that can surround personal posts, may be better for you. Hearing legitimate care in one person’s voice may be more soothing than receiving 100 retweets. In fact, I’m rather certain of that.
Just because you *can* share your troubles online does not always mean that that will be the most helpful road. And if you are going through a hard time, I wanted to just nudge you and say, “Hey…there are other ways to reach out to people who can give you genuine and 100% legitimate care.” Reach out and revisit that 3 AM conversation.
And take care.
Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/franciscoiurcovich/3550150437/ via Creative Commons