There was a time, not too long ago, when fights occurred because one person didn’t agree with another person and said so… to their face. These fights would sometimes get heated, but they would typically resolve quickly and everyone knew where they stood… for the most part. Those were simpler times. And then social media came along and changed everything. Nowadays, fights can start simply because someone doesn’t like someone’s post. Seriously. I’ve had friends tell me that they didn’t think someone liked them because “they never like my posts.” An entire narrative of mistrust and anger was built on this belief— not once assuming that a) maybe that person is just busy or b) maybe they have better things to do than “like” an acquaintances pictures of their dog. But even worse than holding these staunch “truths to be self-evident,” is the amount of information that can be misconstrued via text, tweet, IM, gchat, post, etc simply because we fail to recognize intention in people’s words. And that can escalate from something that might normally be perceived as pretty harmless into THE WORST THING IN THE WORLD. But, texting and emailing is the normal mode of communication now. Even I, once a serial phone-chatter who would get into trouble for spending hours on the phone with my best friend (who I saw at school every day, nonetheless), much prefers sending a text or email to actually conversing. It’s easier. It’s more convenient. And sometimes an emoji is all you need.
… Except it’s not.
I think another lesser-talked about side-effect of the instant-communication we’re all so accustomed to now is that it has created a generation of sensitive souls. Not only are we used to instant-feedback and instant-gratification because of our insta-accounts, we don’t know what to do when we don’t get it. What’s worse, instead of taking the sometimes necessary “five minutes” to cool off before engaging with someone who is angry, WE NEED TO HANDLE THE SITUATION RIGHT NOW. And that leads to saying things we haven’t thought through (aka, things that we probably shouldn’t say) and even more hurt feelings. That’s not good for anybody.
We’re also less apt to handle criticism because most everything we post or do gets rewarded with a “thumbs-up” or “heart.” So, simple criticism like: “you hurt my feelings” gets turned into: “I WOULD NEVER HURT YOUR FEELINGS. I AM A PERFECT PERSON WHO DOES EVERYTHING PERFECTLY ALL THE TIME AND WOULD NEVER MAKE A BASIC HUMAN ERROR LIKE SAY SOMETHING NOT PERFECT. HOW DARE YOU FOR EVEN THINKING THAT!” … or something along those lines. If you never have conversations that are more evolved than “I liked the recipe you posted the other day!” or “cool baby!” or “that vacation you went on looked neat!” and you’re typing these “conversations” instead of having these conversations face-to-face, of course you’re not going to know how to deal with anything more than the superficial. For example, actual real conversations, like: “I’m going through a tough time and need your support,” or “You did something that really hurt me. Can we talk about it?” You will automatically jump to the defense.
And there’s another aspect that’s like throwing kerosene onto this already smoking-hot fire of drama: other people. Because social media is all about perception, it only makes sense that we are now obsessed what other people think about us. That’s multiplied times a million when we’re worried someone will think less of us. So now the drama isn’t about the two people in conflict, it’s about everyone they know. Innocent bystanders will be thrown into the gauntlet and forced to choose sides. And the people who are looking for some satellite drama of their own? Well, they’ll gladly fan the flames of drama. Besides, they’re the ones that get to come out of the fight unscathed just by muttering a few words or not liking a few posts. It’s a pretty good deal, if you ask me.
And what happens when you combine lack of real communication, extra sensitivity, and the perception dynamic? A big fucking mess and a lot of avoidable hurt feelings. So, next time there’s a fight bubbling up, maybe instead of listening to others’ opinions, go straight to the source. And not via email or text or spotty cell phone, sit down with the person. Because face-to-face communication is still the best kind of communication. And if you’re still itching for that social media connection? You can always snap an instagram pic of your time together. Everyone wins.