2007 was a big year for social media…*
- Twitter took off at SXSW with tweets tripling during the conference from 20k to 60k per day.
- The microblogging platform, Tumblr, was born.
- Facebook hit a growth spurt with over 1 million new users signing up per week, 200,000 per day.
2007 was a big year for me too…it was the year I spent in bed.
Instead of watching social media leak into our collective consciousness, in 2007 I took an unplanned social sabbatical from the world and the life I had been living.
I won’t bother you with the particulars of why this happened, except to say that I had a baby and it caused some physical complications and, shortly thereafter, part of my spine ripped open.
It was then that a second offspring came into my life – a shadow of pain etched into my back that has been my companion ever since.
So my 2007 began with me unable to work upright, overwhelmed with an infant I could not physically care for and the prospect of lots and lots of time on my hands.
Oh my friends, there was so much time for me to carry in 2007.
As you can imagine, my year in bed was long, painful, lonely, depressing and very, very boring.
There was none of this in my life then…the tweets, the blog, the goofy Facebook quizzes, the movies streaming from Netflix, the iPad to enable me to read on my side, or you – people whom I know or don’t know, offering to act as an audience for my thoughts
None of it.
But it was that year in bed that eventually attracted me to all of these things, once I knew they existed.
And I believe it was also that year in bed that led me to a greater understanding of why other people are drawn to social media, too.
1. People need distraction from themselves.
You think social media breeds narcissism? Try spending all of your time by yourself, focused on yourself. During my year in bed, I mostly lived in my own head. And I gotta tell you, unless you’re a monk, that much self-reflection isn’t necessarily a good thing. Yes, social media exposes us to a lot of people airing and reveling in their personal baggage. But it also serves as a continual reminder that the world is much bigger than we are. I’m inclined to think that this is a better concept to meditate upon all day than the dreary details of how much we think our own lives suck.
2. Epiphanies are more powerful when they are educated.
I’ve always been a person who dreams up “big ideas,” and my year in bed was no exception. But those epiphanies were birthed inside a vacuum, educated mainly by daydreams and conjecture and often standing miles away from an implementation opportunity. Social media however, gives us unfiltered, continuous access to new information all day long that we can consciously and unconsciously squirrel away in our brains and stew upon for strokes of insight. This endless field of information is far more fertile ground, not just for good ideas to sprout, but also for them to grow.
3. People want to share.
In 2007, I began a lot of stories with, “Today, on Oprah…,” and my husband, God love him, sat and listened to every last one of them (and yes, I realize now that he was bored to tears). Stories are the bedrock of our relationships, the currency we exchange to show people that we’re invested in them. Without them, our social interactions feel bankrupt. People are attracted to social media because it gives us a place where we can share our stories. It also offers the promise of an audience of listeners and the hope that someone in that audience will hear our voice and reach out in return to answer, “I hear you…I see you…I understand.”
4. Reality is subjective.
When you spend a lot of time in seclusion, a schism develops between your world and the world out there. The more you feel that your world is not “normal,” the more you start to romanticize the lives of everyone else. I’ll admit that social media does encourage some of this “grass is greener” behavior. Sometimes I get depressed when I read people’s posts about how AWESOME their lives are and I think, “Why are these people able to live normal, pain-free lives and not me?” But social media also exposes me to people who are frustrated, confused, hurt, scared, angry or envious. Those voices comfort me and remind me that the reality is that everyone’s “normal” is just a little bit messed up, whether they want to admit it to the world, or not.
5. No one wants to be alone.
My greatest fear is that someday I’ll need to repeat my year in bed. (And it’s a sure bet that I will – we all will someday, for what are our final twilight years, but a series of goodbyes ushered from the comfort of beds?). But I wonder what that experience would feel like now that I have the gift of conversation at my fingertips? I think “social media” is simply a term we’re using to label the process of people figuring out online what it means to be human. Ultimately, it has nothing to do with being “social” all the time. It’s about not being so alone.
So, that’s what I learned from my year in bed, (that, and so much more) and my life has been forever changed by the experience…
Today I appreciate each step I take outside my house.
Today I breathe in conversations and community like the air that they are.
Today I no longer carry time, but instead, stand in front of it, like a child at the entrance to an amusement park, looking over her shoulder to her parents, shouting, “Come, on! We have to go. There is so much to see!”
*Statistics from Skloog blog infographic, “The History of Social Media.”