Social Media is Like Woodstock on the Net

    June 22, 2008

I caught this statement in a discussion elsewhere. It went something like, “I don’t think people over 40 get social media, whereas kids love it.” Having seen this sentiment mentioned before, I thought I’d express my feelings on the matter.

I’m 50 years old. I get the whole social media gig. It’s like Woodstock on the ‘Net, where people gather together for several minutes, days, weeks, months and years to hang out, talk, share, listen to music, run around naked and slide in the mud.

What social media doesn’t offer people of my generation is face to face communication. It doesn’t let us hold hands, sing or hug. Instead of raising our lighters as a token of respect and homage to those we admire, social media offers voting and “thumbs up” buttons. There’s no thrill there. There’s no rock and roll. Today’s version of social is “read this, read that”, vote on it, follow or unfollow, friend or unfriend, get answers or be completely and utterly ignored even though you know you’re there.

Social networking on the Internet brings together people who would otherwise never meet each other. Back in the day, we hitchhiked.

Families no longer live in the same towns, so having a MySpace account can help keep The Smiths up to date on what Uncle Bob is doing and when the next baby shower for Sally will be. It’s a sad thing, but with the cost of gas these days, some families only have the Internet as a way to stay in touch. Online photo albums have cheered grandparents the world over.

To think that older people don’t get involved socially online is a mistake. My own parents, in their 70’s, are deeply entrenched in discussion groups on all kinds of topics. They’re in touch with their siblings who are still alive via email and do projects together via the ‘Net, such as genealogy. My Dad sends me workshop and seminar videos and is no stranger to YouTube. Blogher is one community with women of all ages, young and old. One of my favorite Blogher bloggers is older than me. She’s hip and smart.

What I do feel is that social media is not going to make us happy in the long run. It fills a need right now. People are coming together and grouping off into areas of interest or gender, for example. What’s missing is a solid, real feeling of actually being with the people there. We used to call them “Be In’s”.

In most social situations, when you enter the environment, people know you’re there. They see you arrive into the space. They may approach and welcome you. With social media, the goals and missions are different. You can come, drop in, drop out and nobody cares if you were there. They may never know you showed up. Not only that, to participate, you have to give out personal information and obtain a password. You need to configure settings. Its a lot of work just to hang out with people you don’t even know and annoying as heck when you simply wish to stay in touch with a few you do know. If someone spots you, everybody wants to be your friend.

Pot used to do that too.

Today at my house, a friend showed up and after half an hour of chit chat, opened up about some issues he’s having with someone and needed advice. We had a nice talk. Most importantly, it was face to face and I could hug him when he left because I knew he’d like that and it’s what I do with my friends.

Later, another friend showed up and after 10 minutes of banter, wanted advice on her divorce because she saw how my ex-husband and I always put the kids first and get along so well. She wanted to do that too. When she left, she said she wanted to come back because it felt good to talk.

What struck me is both of these people can email me to talk. One has MySpace and Facebook and “Friends”, but doesn’t use them for “real” discussions. The other is a teacher and very computer oriented.

Social networking isn’t the same as one on one talking and sharing. There are no eyes to gaze into and no hand to touch. Conversations are strange, as if you’re sitting on the steps on the street listening to people talk as they stride by you. It’s a fleeting thing. Not sustained.

For me, true social engagement is something of substance. I haven’t felt that on the Internet. I have felt it at rock concerts and rallies, back in the days when we gathered in gigantic groups with signs, blankets, and worn out sandals.

I get social media. I’m happy it’s available. It’s just some social media web sites lack power. They’re missing passion or unity of conscious awareness, although some do try if they’re behind a certain cause. I don’t want to wait for someone to log on to Be With Me because when they are, most of the time I still can’t feel their presence. I just see their words. Sometimes they acknowledge me, sometimes not. I don’t like how that feels.

For me, a really satisfying connection is a lasting one. I want to feel wanted and needed. Social sites haven’t done that yet. I want to come away with something tangible. Something like a feeling or knowingness that I belong to something worthwhile, special, unique, and that I want to return to.

People are still talking about Woodstock.