My Son, the Social Genius
My 8 months old son Benjamin is becoming quite a hilarious little character. Lately, when friends are visiting and we get into a good discussion, Benjamin has started to notice that he’s not the center of attention. Since he doesn’t really know how to just hang out and he doesn’t know how to join the conversation, he does the only thing he knows how to do – shout, wave his arms, and bang stuff.
He’s not angry or sad, he just wants people to know he’s there.
Those Who Post Are Those Who Exist
The Web 2.0 social networking universe is sometimes like that dinner scene. In the early days of the Internet, we didn’t have easy-to-use sites where we could quickly post, tweet, comment, and so on, so we just “browsed” the web. But today, even the most technically illiterate person can write or post all the time. While this is a lot of fun, some people are not saying they feel the need to be be online all the time and can’t stop checking and posting, checking and posting.
So why is this? Are we all just lonely narcissists? Are we addicted to the Internet?
Perhaps, but I think there might be something in the difference between the online and offline worls that can help us understand why we feel the need to post so often. In New Media Frontier, Matthew Lee Anderson helps explain this phenomenon by pointing out that, “We cannot simply be online and influence others like we can be in a concert hall or with a friend and have influence … [Online presence requires a person to] act intentionally in some way … through writing comments or linking or posting a video response.” (p. 63).
In other words, the only way to be online is to post, comment, tweet, or some other intentional act. Of course, you are free to simply browse, but then no one will know you’re there.
Being Online vs. Being Present
In the case of my my 8 month old son, he simply doesn’t yet know how to be present. Eventually he’ll learn how and he’ll start to understand that sometimes just being in a room with someone, not saying anything can be incredibly meaningful. When someone hundreds of miles away is hurting, our movement through time and space to be present with them communicates in ways far more profound than any letter, email, tweet, or spoken word.
Where as my son simply doesn’t know how to be present, in the online world there is no way to be present. Sure, there is a little green dot next to our name in a chat room indicating we are present, but for me it doesn’t feel the same as actually being with someone.
This inability to perform something so basic to being human reshapes what we value in the online world. Instead of presence, we tend to value words in posts, links, and replies. Being present in the real world doesn’t require anything new or novel, but posting online always requires something new or interesting. While being present is a selfless act for another, posting and linking is often more about ourselves than the other.
There is of course nothing wrong with posting, commenting, and replying, and social media makes these things easy, fun ways to connect with other people. But the next time you feel that urge to get online, check your stats, and post something, it might be worth asking yourself,
“Do I really just need to be present with other people? Are there others out there who need me to just show up and be there for them?”