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Social Reversion

Facebook and Twitter have made us terrible people. We find our narcissism and codependency enabled by a social network of pseudo-friends. We are bad friends and worse people. We care about what we have to say or like or post; we're annoyed by others who do the same themselves. We want to seem brilliant or cool or funny or likeable or attractive or popular or hip or relevant or [insert adjectival insecurity here], and yet when we are in person with real, live, breathing human beings of people, we shut down, or worse, we stay the same.

We don't know how to be friends anymore. We don't know how to listen, to share the conversation, to ask questions and to genuinely give a care in the world about anyone else's life. We ramble, interrupt, talk over people, or just check out until it is our turn in the story. It's rude, it's childish, and it's glaringly self-absorbed. It's as if we haven't left preschool, our need to be impressive and accepted manifested in what we share about ourselves virtually. What even five years ago was never meant for public consumption is now the very basis by which we find our emotional security. We are living out an adult game of Show & Tell, only each of us is telling and showing over top of the other, more loudly and provocatively with each passing post.

I know we all do it. We are excited to tell about our lives. We're story-tellers. And that's great. Really. But every story needs an audience, and in this life we call our adventure, it just so happens that the rules follow that we take turns, that we listen when others are speaking, and we answer when someone is talking to us. We don't revert to infancy, when everything revolved around us.

We've experienced the evolution of social networking, from Friendster to MySpace (my own personal space) to Facebook with "friends" and Twitter with "followers." Is it possible to be any more self-aggrandizing? We have now equated ourselves to MLK Jr. and Gandhi and Jesus Christ; we have followers. For what? To hear us spout about sports or politics or random musings of our day? I have a twitter handle. But what does that say about us as a civilization when we have belittled friendship to an annual cyber birthday wish or reduced status-quo-shattering movements to pithy statements each of us are mandated to publish in 140 characters or less? We invite people to events, and now the people who get left off the invitation list are those most likely smart enough to have given up Facebook for its unfortunate ironies: in trying to connect us to the world via "friends" we have become more detached within our real friendships. In clamoring for more "friends" and "followings" we have stretched ourselves a million miles wide but only an inch deep. Don't call me, just text me. We're averse to intimacy.

Some of it is convenience. Some of it is fun. And I imagine Acquaintance-ster didn't sound like a runaway hit. But where friendship used to be defined by those who pack up your apartment with grunts and sweat and pizza, who came to your rescue when you were stranded, who took road trips with you just for the adventure of it, it's now been reduced to a running tally of classmates and coworkers numbering in the hundreds or thousands, many of whom are indistinguishable by name alone. Our social networking has single-handedly sucked the life out of a word, irreverently mocking the sanctity of something beautiful. For a society that prides itself on its technological advancement and cultural superiority, it's somewhat ironic then that its crowning achievement is a faux-society composed of our collective primal selves to such degree not seen since our ancestors were hunter/gatherers.

I remember watching lots of different kinds of movies growing up. Cartoons or Commando or the Goonies or Pete's Dragon or The Care Bears. And all of those are nostalgic for me. But when I saw Save the Last Dance in high school or whenever it came out, I remember getting goosebumps at the part with the gang members. Not because I was scared of the Crips, or because I secretly knew I could make it as a member. It was because of the bond, the loyalty of their friendship. It was moving at a moment in the movie that wasn't necessarily intended to be so. But it's funny now; I find that moment just as jarring today as then. I don't need universal acceptance or respect or likeability. I need friendship. Real and unrelenting, loyal and redemptive. I need people who want to hear my stories, sure, but who need me to hear theirs. I need people who rally around me in trouble or joy, who "get" the things I "get," who challenge and make me a better person. I don't need 1200 friends to follow me to my own personal space on a website. I need real friends with whom to travel this adventure. This life that's as much their story as mine.

I'm not giving up Facebook or Twitter, and I'm aware the irony of such sentiment originating from the format most solely responsible for our lapse into infantile narcissism--a blog, but I do want to be more conscious of my own approach to life, and the virtual reality that is social networking. I don't pretend to have it all mastered, and perhaps this is my hope for accountability, publicly chastising the very forum within which this is being shared. I don't know the best way to fix our culture, if it's even possible, or if it's even worth the effort. I'm sure there'll be money in Facebook Rehabs and a Facebook patch and Facebookette gum and Facebook Anonymous chat rooms. Or maybe we could become less self-absorbed and more self-aware, taking note of our tendencies and making good on our struggles to change and grow and really live. I suppose we'll have to do it one person at a time. So for me, and for you, my friend, stop talking about yourself for a bit. Ask your friends questions about their lives. Give a damn. Give them the chance to Show & Tell.