What is social media for?

This past weekend, I get a text from a friend asking to send her a picture of myself. I reply jokingly, “you got a man for me,” but I send her a selfie anyway. It’s a selfie another friend took of us back in September. I rarely take selfies; and do what with it? I see my face every morning, night, and in between. Later, I figure I probably came up in a conversation and my friend wanted to show a picture, to say this is the person I’m talking about. Usually, people pull up a person’s social media and say, here this person, but I’m not on social media. Maybe not. She texts me afterwards, “I need you to get on social media,” and I reply, “that will never happen,” followed by laughing emojis. I get to thinking. Will I ever get back on social media?

Will I ever get back on social media? It comes to me after my walk home from the library, while chopping sweet potatoes, dancing to this and that in my tiny kitchen, that this is the wrong question to ask. The right question to ask, at this point in my journey, with years spent away from social media, is what is social media for? Specifically, if I were to ever get back on social media, what would it be for? What purpose would Instagram, Twitter, Facebook serve in my life? Why bother getting back on social media now? When I’m forgetting what social media is useful for. I consider it anyway. I consider what others have said all along, their reasons, excuses, platitudes for why social media is important, even necessary, in the 21st century, and if that is any longer true for me.

Starting with, social media is necessary for staying connected.

As I get older, pay attention and notice a thing or two, I realize you can learn a lot by asking questions and then listening— to yourself, to Others, to the Universe.”You need social media to stay connected,” sure, but I have two questions: One, stay connected to who? And two, what does it mean to stay connected?

I ask these questions because it is true, without social media, it’s impossible to stay connected with the hundreds, let alone thousands, of people you can come across over time, through school, work, travels, events, and maintain that connection via call, text, and/or email. There are the people I went to high school with, of course, then the Others during my undergraduate and post-graduate studies; there were also the people I met through work, while traveling, having a smoke at the bar, the marriage; then there are the people from Toronto, Windsor, while I was in Vancouver that one month trying to figure it out, then there was Michigan, of course, and that trip back in 2016 Cuba, Dominican Republic in 2019, and naturally, because I’m open, fun, friendly, I meet people everywhere I go. Without social media, we exchange numbers, sometimes even email addresses, but these fleeting, on-the-surface, born out of convenience connections cannot seem to sustain the intimacy of a phone call, or even a text, and the seriousness of email exchange. So we lose touch and we stop existing in each other’s universe.

Despite, some connections survive this lack; often because the universe aligned to keep us tethered together. There is no other explanation but simply that some people are meant to be in my life, and those connections I keep close to my heart; deeply connected with and delightfully entrenched in my life. By not being on social media, I have zero second-hand connections, connections that are sustained by passive likes and comments, *emoji heart, emoji heart, emoji heart;* the connections that couldn’t survive the texts, phone calls, and emails; the ones that wouldn’t find a chair at the back of the bar, past 1am, music blasting, while we hold each other, “It just hurts so much you know,” “I know, I’m sorry, I love you.” Either people are integrated into my life, from work, my family and friends, to people I see consistently at the workout studio, and some less so but still I see here and there at events, meet up groups, and so forth, but still I see them, hear them, laugh at their stupid texts on the train ride, or they literally do not exist.

So yes, social media is necessary for staying connected if I wanted to stay connected with the kids I went to high school with, or that person I worked with back in the day and we became very close by apprroxy, or those who knew bits and pieces of me until life got in the way. But, because I don’t, because I find my time and attention is worth more than what Silicon Valley has to offer, because the connections couldn’t survive the lack anyway— the lack of social media, of likes, comments, and shares that maybe could have kept us passively existing in each other’s worlds— I don’t find social media to be necessary for staying connected. I think, by giving up social media supported connections, I have had no choice but to double down on 3-hour long phone conversations that bring up nothing and everything, nights ending with embraces and “until next Friday,” and random text messages that make me laugh out loud while everyone on the bus looks on curiously— Oops. I find it’s enough for me.

Social media is for being social.

I’m so glad I stopped believing this lie: Treacherous, dangerous, outright-criminal lie. It would be too easy to shit on the shallow, alienating, anti-social mode of connection social media provides— the likes, the comments, the shares, the lurking that pretend to make up for the laughs, the hugs, the playful pushes and lulls in conversations that only reality can provide. There is, in fact, nothing more anti-social than social media. Because I got lucky back in 2017 and left social media, I find out there are other ways of being, living, socializing even that Silicon Valley wants to pretend is no longer possible, accessible, and enjoyable even, but I know it to be so true it fills me with so much joy. You can be social, even more social than otherwise, without social media. It just takes effort. You can create a fulfilling, thriving, full of wonder and enjoyment social life utterly independent of social media.

I would tell you how but I do not know your life, what things you enjoy doing, what resources and tools are available for you; Do you live in the city or a small town? Do you drive or take public transportation? Are you a student? Married or single? Got kids? Got money? Got talents, hobbies, interests? What are they? Are you an introvert or an extrovert? I spent many years thinking I was an introvert, but in reality I am a fein for time spent with people; they recharge me. Are you still living somewhere where you grew up or is where you are now so far removed from home you forget where home is sometimes? What do you do for work? Do you code or do you take care of the elderly? Are you the elderly? A million and one more questions I can ask, and so ask yourself, without social media, with how my life is right now, if social media was not to exist, how would I manage a fulfilling, thriving, full of wander and enjoyment social life? If you don’t have an answer to that, social media is not the problem in the first place, but it might be pacifying you. Be curious, be gentle, be brave, and find out; live well.

Social media is for staying updated on other people’s lives, and keeping others updated on yours.

“If you’re not a foodie,” we’re drinking and joking about foodie culture, “then what is your thing? What gets you going?” There is nothing I love more than a really good conversation, even better an excellent banter session, full on roast mode; I’m delighted when someone gets in a really good punch: “Mehret, I know I’m doing better than you,” daaaaamn, everyone is laughing. “Like now,” I say, “drinks and talking about everything and anything.” I love talking: Writing is part of it. What I love even more is listening to people’s stories; about their days, their lives, who do they love the most, the least, their thoughts and feelings. Over the past few years, because I didn’t have access to people outside of reality, I have learned to listen carefully when they talk and keep them talking so I don’t have to go back to the boring internet. I remain curious, I ask questions, I nod and smile, I say “me too,” when appropriate, and I learn to love them deeply. I used to feel alone, that everything that happened to me, all the pain, loss, agony I had to endure, all the misery was uniquely of my own doing, of own my curse; of being poor, black; maybe even ugly. But if you were to pay attention— for no reason at all, no purpose, just because they want to tell you things and you want to listen— and hear half of their stories, understand a tiny bit of it, it’d overwhelm you so much, you’d want to fall to the ground, scream at the gods, the devil, whomever would listen.

So, when I say this I hope it comes off as intended, with so much love, appreciation, and care I feel for people: I don’t care about your social media updates. I care about people. I love talking to anyone and everyone who would talk, and would listen. I can listen with so much interest to the minute details of people’s 40-year-old dog on its last legs, oh-the-so-cute newborn baby and #momlife, travel updates, Amazon finds, graduations, a new job, bad boss/good boss, you name it, and I mean it. I can even stomach the stories that make me want to close my ears and beg, “please that’s enough, I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry it happened to you; how are you so strong” but I do not care about your status update. Now that I am here, years without social media, I can’t fathom spending my time, my one beautiful, wild, precious life, consuming endless social media updates through a tiny phone screen. Who cares? All the important life updates get to me somehow; during the hour-long phone calls, the texts with screenshots for receipts, meeting for drinks and she says, ” So I bought a house,” and we scream, we cheer, and we drink to that. That’s how I want to get updates from people.

What about keeping people updated on my life? If I could care less, I would. Humbly, my life is dope and I do dope shit: Who cares? Enough people in my life, bless their hearts, have to hear about my shenanigans and find it in their hearts to respond with all the things I need to hear— you is kind, you is smart, you is important, give me all the hype I need to sustain me a lifetime. Mind you, I have like a maximum of 10 such people, so no it won’t compare to the tens, or hundreds, or even thousands of people liking and commenting on status updates to validate our lives, but it’s enough for me. More than enough. Reality makes up for all the likes, comments, and internet validation I’m missing out on.

With all that said, will I ever go back on social media? The answer is a definite no. I have figured out how to live well without social media. Going back would be pointless; for what reason or purpose? I am better connected and social without social media, and I adore spending time offline, feeling grounded in and surrendering to reality. So, why would I go back on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook? Sure, I will never know what I missed out on by getting off social media years back, and how differently my life could have turned out with all the connections, opportunities, and benefits social media would have provided me. But I never wonder. With what I know now and looking back at my life— who I was then, the things I had to endure, how little time I had to catch my breathe in-between all the losses and despair— having to grow through all of that while mantaining an Instagram or Facebook account, with everyone else’s life on full display, sounds like a special kind of hell. I will never go back on social media, and I’m glad the choice is still mine.

Until next time,

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