Something occurred to me, recently, as I was reading an article concerning why the younger crowds aren’t falling in love with social media at the rate they once were. One of the statements made, in passing, was that social media offered relationships, that at their core, were transactional.
That word sort of rolled around inside my head like mercury in a hot skillet.
Transactional. Transactional relationships. Give me something and I give you something. Capitalist relationships. Give me what I want, and no one gets hurt.
Yes, all of these things. It made sense in a way that I have had trouble putting my finger on. And it made sense in a way that some of you might not really realize, not knowing all the details of my story.
I once had a rather… lively discussion with someone because I wrote about the idea that digital community wasn’t the same as actual, living and breathing community. Not in criticism of digital community, but more in the idea that you can’t get the same things from digital community that you can from real life community. The person in question was a millennial and they were very adamant about how wrong I was. When I saw this recent article, I realized that my original argument wasn’t wrong, per se, but just incomplete.
All human beings crave connection and community, even the most reclusive of us. We may have learned how to be without it for a little while, or how to satisfy the hunger for it with other things, but we still crave it. And digital community might absolutely fill that craving. It might satisfy that ache. But what it hinges upon is that horrible, terrible word: transactional.
You cannot operate in a social media space without transactions. It just doesn’t work for it to be one way. Kanye West blathers his unique blend of idiocy as any narcissist with a megaphone would, but for 99% of Twitter and Facebook, we require likes, stars, hearts, retweets, shares, etc. We require it because it’s the currency of the medium.
But here’s where it gets really interesting: the sickness is spreading over into real life.
People are beginning to approach real community, real life interaction, with the idea that validation, affirmation, and agreement are the cornerstone of friendship, romance, and even work acquaintance.
“Why isn’t everyone agreeing with my idea at work?! What do you mean you don’t like my kale muffins?! Why haven’t you said anything about my new haircut yet?!”
The idea that we must be affirmed in order to be valued is a shameful lie. The more we allow this transactional sphere to define for us what relationships look like, the more we will use people to get what we want. The more we’ll turn inward, focusing on getting what we want. And when we reach the bottom of that pit, if there is one, we will likely find ourselves unable to interact with others in any real way. We’ll be unable to have real friendships, real marriages, or even real coworkers. Instead, our lives will become these circular echo chambers where we paste the walls with selfies.
I don’t want that for me. I don’t want it for anyone else, either. And this is one more reason I don’t need to be on social media anymore. I want authentic, real community. I want to connect with people across my dinner table. I want to give real hugs. I want to remember the truth about how hard it is to be with people without needing them to assure me of how good I really am.
Yes, all that is just heavy stuff, but it was what was in my head. And now it’s here.
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