Electronic Emotions and Plugged-In Pals

We've become such an open society that it's difficult to have private moments and thoughts. Thanks to social media, we share our lives and tragedies online, when all we really want to do is vent, unload, and cry privately.

We've taught ourselves that personal issues and dirty laundry need to be aired online, for everyone to see. We've developed a weird voyeuristic/exhibitionist relationship with each other.

Are we becoming eager to post bad news on Facebook and Twitter, or do we do it reluctantly? Are we so lonely for human emotions and support that we turn to our online friends for it? Or do we really get emotional relief by sharing our private lives in so public a setting?

Divorce, break ups, loss of friendships, loss of loved ones. They all get aired on social media, so others can see and react.

We live in public. We live out loud.

In many ways, we all want privacy. We don't want people knowing our business. But at the same time, so many people are in pain, they just want someone to tell them everything will be okay.

I'm actually fairly private in what I share. I don't share a lot of my personal life, because I just don't want people knowing about it.

I'm fully aware of the irony of my situation.

I'm a humor columnist; I'm supposed to write about my life and observations. I'm a social media professional; I get paid to help other people to live out loud. And I'm a book author; I write social media books that tell people to share their personal and professional lives online.

I just hate doing it myself.

I'm happy to share personal victories or accomplishments. I take photos of friends and family, and post them to Twitter and Facebook. But I rarely take selfies. Partly because I think they're self-aggrandizing, but mostly because I hate the word "selfie."

For the most part, people are generally supportive of each other online. We all offer the appropriate comments online when someone shares bad news. But our empathy is becoming automatic and rote.

If we can text, tweet, or Facebook a message, we'll do it. I've lost count of the number of times I've posted a simple "Happy birthday!" on Facebook on someone's special day.

Instead, I've taken to writing and calling my closest friends so I don't take the easy way out.

A few years ago, my mother got annoyed with me because I didn't write "Happy birthday" on her Facebook page. I had called her and sent her a gift, but it bothered her that I hadn't written on her wall.

I explained that I thought an electronic message was too impersonal and cold for my own mother on her birthday, and that the personal touch would be more heartfelt.

"How do you think it looks when only two of my three children write on my wall for my birthday?" she asked.

"You only have 12 Facebook friends. I don't think anyone noticed," I said.

No one is really surprised that I wasn't my mother's favorite.

I worry that electronic communication is making us all lazy. We look for a way to avoid physical human contact, and instead look for the easiest method that requires the least commitment.

Recently, after my mother died, I received a letter from an insurance company saying I could take advantage of their grief counseling services and resources. Curious, I typed in the needlessly long web address to see what they offered.

Rather than finding a list of area psychologists and counselors who offered their services, I found a short, generic invitation to call one of their trained grief counselors on the phone.

You get psychic readings on the phone, you don't process the death of a loved one with someone you can't even see. Besides, can you imagine how many cell minutes that will chew up?

Best of all, they didn't include a phone number on that particular web page. So if you actually wanted to call their grief counselor hotline — which was "available 24/7," because hipster slang is sooo comforting — you had to poke around on their website to find it.

I don't want to name this particular insurance company, but it rhymes with "You know who sucks at grief counseling? MetLife."

To their credit, they did offer more than Telephone-a-Therapist services. You could also download PDF articles on dealing with the loss of a loved one. Because nothing is as warm and comforting as an electronic document you can read on your cell phone on the toilet.

"I feel very sad today. I think I'll download a PDF and go poop."

While I'm normally very gung ho about social media and all the great things it can do for us, I don't want to forget the joys and benefits of spending time with real people face-to-face, talking about real issues, hearing their voices, and seeing their expressions.

And when they start to bug me, I can go on Facebook and make veiled passive-aggressive statements about certain people who shouldn't eat garlic fries at lunch.

Photo credit: Ewen Roberts (Flickr, Creative Commons)

The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook. My latest book, The Owned Media Doctrine is now available on Amazon.com

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