Impersonal Emotional Exhibitionism

As any of my readers who’ve searched for me on Facebook and Twitter may know… I’m not there. It’s not that I’m opposed to new technology or new forms of communications per se. I was an early adopter of computers and email. I have a late model I-phone, and I’ve even been known to text when necessary.

But just because a form of communication is new and instantly popular doesn’t necessarily make it something that’s useful for me, or for that matter, make it necessarily a positive force in society. In that respect, from what I’ve observed, social media is displaying a very disturbing side. I see reports of people texting, tweeting, “friending,” Facebook posting, Instragramming, etc., often with very intimate information, without apparently the slightest concern about how such information might be used. Theoretically, much of such postings is restricted to recipients and “friends,” but once it’s on someone else’s cellphone and/or computer, that widens the possibility for misuse.

Beyond the possibility of such misuse, however, there’s another more subtle and, to me, equally disturbing aspect of social media – and that’s the fact that it’s really better termed “anti-social media.” Most students at the local university don’t socialize with their peers in person. They pass each other, earbuds cutting off auditory distractions, eyes mostly fixed on the hand-held screen. Couples often sit at tables, each in their own electronic cocoon. Whether they’re texting each other or someone else, it’s still not exactly social.

Interestingly enough, a professional woman I know has observed that a growing percentage of young people don’t know how to introduce themselves and, especially, that they don’t know how to shake hands. In addition, studies are showing that young people who are heavy social media users are poorer in many interpersonal situations and are not as mature entering college as their predecessors of a decade earlier were.

We’ve also seen an enormous growth of electronic exhibitionism, from “sexting” [especially among teenagers] to incredibly revealing disclosures about self, family, and friends, on topics that are very personal. Facebook posts or texts have replaced personal and telephone conversations with friends and family for a rapidly growing percentage of Americans. To me, and to many of my generation, this electronic “sharing” is impersonal, as well as potentially dangerous.

Of course, the older generation is always wary of new technology, not out of conservatism, but out of knowledge that such new technology will always be excessively misused before a balance emerges. There’s also, I must admit, the fear that, this time, there won’t be a balance because the potential for excess will not only overwhelm the users, but also the bystanders.

We’ll see, but, regardless, electronic emotional excesses aren’t the same as personal, one-to-one communication and intimacy, nor do they prepare those who overindulge for living in the real, non-electronic world, where one doesn’t get cursory “likes” from everyone and where the bottom line is performance and results.

5 thoughts on “Impersonal Emotional Exhibitionism”

  1. Tom says:

    While I feel the same way about electronic social media I wonder if we are over reacting. I note that there are entrepreneurs in science and busyness and elected leaders in politics, who are in their 30’s and 40’s and even their 20’s; and, they seem to have rational views of human society and our planet. The present teenagers have not yet made their statement (at least I cannot find it) but when living reality needs to be faced perhaps virtual status becomes secondary and disappears? On the other hand we have an example in The White House who is perhaps a reflection of the “electronic media society” or maybe even a social trend setter!

  2. R. Hamilton says:

    If memory serves, Facebook was originally intended for networking of a more or less practical sort among college students, something like what LinkedIn is for professionals. Then the high school crowd jumped in (because they’d already made MySpace pretty lame, and because they tend to want to pretend to be older and sophisticated); and careless social interaction crowded out much practical content, although practical uses are still possible – for instance, small restaurants might maintain a Facebook page and post their specials there rather than maintain a separate web site, and people can certainly use it to keep in touch with old acquaintences without posting too much in the way of overly personal information or pointlessly provocative opinions.

    Some tools are more prone to abuse; and if they’re “free” but actually monetized behind-the-scenes, as long as the abuse is prolific and the users are supplying the content, there’s little enough incentive to clean up; and cleanup is problematic anyway, since it will be perceived as probably biased censorship.

    Nevertheless, the use or abuse of a tool largely remains in the hands of those who use it. As some should avoid alcohol or gambling, some should avoid social media, especially those types that invite a bit too much spontaneity in lieu of thought.

  3. Daze says:

    I’m sure this doesn’t apply to me or you, but Douglas Adams usefully provided this helpful rule: “Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works. Anything that’s invented between when you’re 15 and 35 is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it. Anything invented after you’re 35 is against the natural order of things.”

    1. Daze says:

      It occurs to me to add that ‘when invented’ can be hard to tie down. I’m now 68, but I first played in an online multi-player dungeon when I was 29 (1979), and first booked a hotel on the internet at 30 (1980 – at the time the Georges V and Plaza Athenee were the only Paris hotels you could book online through CompuServe, so we ended up there!).

  4. Chris Robin says:

    As a high school teacher, I have frequently observed teenagers using social media. A severely disproportionate amount of their free time is spent on social media. However, when they come to school where their access is severely limited, they believe that their social interaction is being hindered and almost completely stifled despite the fact that they are interacting with others far more. As far as I have observed, it has come to the point where the idea of “social interaction” has changed meanings. To the next generation, personal interaction is the annoying distraction whereas the online portion is the “real” social reward. What are the long-term consequences? I am not skilled enough to discriminate all the factors involved but there it is.

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