The Gift of Social Media

I have quite a presence on Facebook. Just ask any of my 943 Friends. I consider it one of my missions in life to make people laugh, or to feel better by lifting them out of the mundane or depressing for a moment. I often read posts from people slamming social media – people are disconnected from each other because they’re always on their phones, it’s too easy for disagreements to escalate to a point of never speaking to someone again, etc.

There is merit in these criticisms. There is a photo collage on a wall in my local queer community center. The collage depicts a time I remember well, the early 1990s when Oregon was facing the first of several anti-gay ballot measures. Most of the pictures were taken at public events of one kind or another – marches, rallies, political speeches. What struck me most was the undivided attention being given the speakers. Every eye was focused on one thing, and one thing only. Our attention was unanimous.

A photo of the same event today would capture a scene with half the people not paying attention because they are texting, and the other half not paying attention because they are taking pictures of the speaker and everyone else at the rally, including themselves. The remaining 5% are listening but not with full attention because they are irritated by the majority. Everyone is operating on the assumption they don’t need to pay attention in the moment because the speech will be widely available later via their favorite social medium. And they’re right.

I sing in the Portland Gay Men’s Chorus. I know full well that much of the power of our performance comes from sharing the air with our audience, singing live and in person. Recordings of the chorus are far less powerful than the chorus live. The same holds true for life in general – the point is to LIVE it, not RECORD it.

If I feel this way, then why have I titled this piece the GIFT of social media? Several reasons…

Sandra. Kathleen. Naomi. Dawn. Gayle. People from my past – some I haven’t seen in over 40 years – with whom I wouldn’t be in touch at all if we hadn’t found each other on Facebook. These reconnections are reason enough for me to look kindly on Facebook.

And there’s another reason. My brother died on March 13. Writing comes as naturally to me as breathing. Part of my grieving process meant sitting at the keyboard letting my feelings flow in words. I wrote a eulogy for my brother and posted it to Facebook. Within hours, I had received such an outpouring of loving support, exactly right for me in that moment.

For someone more on the introverted side, the support I received that day was perfect. I would not have wanted to face the in-person support of 150 people saying some variation of, “I’m so sorry for your loss.” As it is, I was able to feel the love and not feel alone, while being alone.

Used properly, social media provides a level of connection quite comfortable for an introvert. The danger for the introvert is to use Facebook to completely replace face-to-face interaction. Sharing the air is still important. At chorus rehearsal after I posted my brother’s eulogy, several people came up to me and gave me big hugs. Perfect support for this introvert – 150 people giving me support through Facebook, and five giving me heartfelt hugs. I felt the love.

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