Confessions / Society & Culture

Isolation In The Age Of Social Media

 

the-persistence-of-memory-1931

While I edit a chapbook micro press, run poetry events, and seemingly have an entire life’s worth of creative work, I also have a day job. I work in medical auditing and it is very uninteresting, I promise you. Yes, I know a lot about health insurance and how health insurance works. Yes, I can probably tell you which of your company’s policies would be best for you. No, please don’t make me do that at yet another party. Thanks.

It’s a really average office job. It’s one of the few places I truly interact with people who aren’t creative types on a regular basis. When I got my first new coworker when I’d just started at the job about 7 and a half years ago, we were having the “so what are you into?” conversation. I forget what she told me at the time because I’m self-centered like that, but when she asked me, I said I was really into the arts and had a particular penchant for Dada and Surrealism.

“What’s that?” she asked.

“Oh, you know – like Salvador Dali,” I said.

“Who?”

And I stopped and I must have been looking at her like she had sprouted a second head. “You know – Dali – the melting clocks painting? The Persistence of Memory?”

“What’s that?”

Still convinced in my head that she MUST know who Dali was – she must – I did a quick google image search for the painting in question, but she just shook her head and repeated that she had no idea what I was talking about, had never heard of Dali.

I was so sheltered, I genuinely believed that Dali was a household name and everyone at least knew “that melting clocks guy”. To be fair, I’d also grown up in a home where I never really watched TV other than Monty Python’s Flying Circus and Star Trek, could identify Louis XIV by his portrait, and the music we listened to consisted of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and the musical 1776 (on vinyl), to which I had all the lyrics memorized by age 6. So take that as you will.

For the next few years I performed a test – I’d ask each new hire at my day job what they were into and made sure to mention Dali and check for recognition. It probably wasn’t the nicest test in the world, but I was fascinated at the idea that the world I lived in differed so vastly from the world that the majority of the people around me did. About one in every four knew Dali, it seemed.

I don’t perform the test anymore, but more so than the test itself, my reaction to the lack of recognition of who I thought of as a household name surrealist painter (funny when I type that out) speaks to how easy it is to isolate ourselves into a world where everyone knows Salvador Dali, everyone likes the same movies we do, everyone is a liberal, everyone is a feminist.

It’s almost too easy, and becomes easier and easier as the internet and social networking let us filter and list and rank and hide and block and favorite our friends and their opinions. What happened to disagreeing and still liking each other? Or at least each of us not pretending the others don’t exist? Or did that ever really happen in human history?

I mean, I’m a bisexual, sex-positive, kinky, agnostic, and one of my oldest and dearest friends in the world is a devout Christian who has pledged to save herself for marriage. I love her and I am incredibly grateful for her friendship and the lovely, fun, amazing times we’ve had together over the years. But sometimes I wonder if we’d met in the age of social media would we be friends, or would one of us have filtered the other out?

I’m sure I’ll get comments like “oh, you’re so young and it shows! We mature adults don’t do that!” as I got on one of my previous posts, but I respectfully disagree. Now that we have the power to do more than simply put our hands over our ears and hum loudly to ignore what we don’t want to hear, I watch people of all ages do it.

I know that in certain ways it’s a form of self-protection – all this filtering. It’s a very good thing that I can block my ex-husband on Facebook if I so choose. When I start writing sex toy reviews, I’ll be filtering my family out of the social media posts. Everyone wins in both those scenarios. We protect ourselves from hate speech through filtering and blocking. I understand, and don’t wish to unpack what the responsibility of each person in society and on the internet is to respond and debate and argue such things. I don’t think I even begin to qualify to talk about that. I would misstep. I would offend where I don’t mean to.

But if Salvador Dali has encouraged me to do anything, it’s been to acknowledge and respect where divergence occurs, and maybe not be so quick with the “hide” buttons.

Image: Salvador Dali

—-

Margaret Bashaar’s poetry has been collected in 2 chapbooks – Letters from Room 27 of the Grand Midway Hotel (Blood Pudding Press, 2011) and Barefoot and Listening (Tilt, 2009) as well as in many literary journals and anthologies. She edits the chapbook micropress Hyacinth Girl Press, attempts to repair antique typewriters, and spends far too much time at haunted hotels in coal mining towns for her own good. She’s only been suspected of being possessed once and hopes to someday become a rogue taxidermist. She misses the Midwest. Follow her on Twitter @myhyacinthgirl

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3 thoughts on “Isolation In The Age Of Social Media

  1. Very, very insightful.

    I wait tables to make ends meet. One thing I love about the job is the great spectrum of different individuals I encounter on a daily basis. I talk to so many people during one shift, and they all come from different backgrounds and all have different perspectives about life. There is an unwritten rule in the service industry to avoid conversations about politics and religion — two of the most potent topics which tend to fire people up — but I have discovered that, with respect, two people can discuss their perspectives and possible disagreements peacefully. Any two people, no matter how different they may seem, can get along and learn something grand from one interaction.

    As a society, we cannot thrive unless we communicate with one another. Without discussing opinions, sharing experiences, or learning about how the “others” lives their lives, we cannot fully live our own. I learn so much from my guests that I can stand back from my self and critically evaluate my life. I learn more about myself by learning more about everyone else.

    The great thing about social media is that it has the potential to open up lines of communication where one may not exist in physical reality. It is up to us to keep those lines open.

    Thanks for sharing your experiences — you have inspired me to talk to strangers! (I mean that in the safest way possible…haha!)

  2. I have the same kind of question about life partners, not just friends. Dating and relationship websites promise to match clients to like-minded people, but many of the best relationships I have seen are between two people who are not into all the same activities, beliefs or cultures. I wonder if my husband and I were in Eharmony’s database if it would match us up. I’m guessing at the time we met, it wouldn’t have. He was more conservative then, and I wasn’t looking for a long-term relationship. However, here were are, almost 20 years later, happily married and still looking at the world in different ways.

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