Would you know if your friend is feeling down if he/she didn’t post about it? Would you know when his/her birthday was if Facebook didn’t tell you? Would you have the information necessary to congratulate those you love on their achievements, like weddings, and graduations if they didn’t post about it?
How well do we know the people we call friends?
Yesterday was my husband’s birthday and birthdays always have me thinking about relationships and social media. A few years back I had deactivated my Facebook a few days before my birthday. I didn’t feel like being bothered with accolades from people who hadn’t spoken to me since my last birthday. An interesting thing happens when I do this: The people who know me most will call or text me. Then, at the conclusion of the day I’ll post something on social and out of the woods will come those who thought they knew me and yet didn’t know something as basic as the date of my birth.
I had one person I considered a sister call me three days after my thirtieth birthday. There’s no harm in this. I’m not that sensitive. People don’t have to stop their lives for me. Reach out when you can. What I found odd is not that she called three days later. What was odd is that she thought she had called on my actual birthday. I found this odd because I thought we were closer than that. I had known the woman over ten years. We had lived with one another at some point, interacted with one another’s children, dined together, laughed, and had deep conversations. This wasn’t just any sister, this was someone I thought knew me well. Well enough to know my birthday is not May 29th. It doesn’t surprise me that today, we are no longer in touch.
But don’t get distracted. This is not about birthdays.
This is about the work we put or do not put into relationships now that Social Media automates our lives. Now that there is “an app for that” some of us have become lazy in our interactions with one another.
I had the pleasure of visiting Griffin High School last weekend. I spoke to four classes of tenth and eleventh graders about writing, publishing, and my journey as an author. I love young people. I love their innocence and straightforwardness. I love their non-sugarcoating questions. Many of them asked me if I “made a lot of money,” and “how do I deal with criticism?” It swelled my heart to have the pleasure of being there with them. One student asked me if I thought the ebooks would overtake paperbacks. I told him that while digital has enhanced writing in many ways, I think the paperback is here to stay.
Digital books are convenient when I am eagerly expecting reading a book and I don’t want to wait for the paperback to come in the mail. It’s fast and quickly satisfying. Buying a paperback book costs more and takes patience but when it comes there is something immensely gratifying about holding the book in my hands and turning the pages. A feeling I do not get when I read digitally. When I can look in someone’s eyes and talk with them as I did last week, answer their questions, hear their concerns, sign their books organically, hug them and take pictures with them, nothing online can compare to that experience. That human experience.
Let’s say digital books represent social media and paperbacks represent real life. While it may be easier to wait for a notification to tell you that your loved ones are “feeling sad” it is much more productive to hear their voice on the other end of the phone or to give them an inspiring word through text. It is even more fruitful to see them face-to-face, to hear their voices, and look into their eyes. Some things you will never know about a person from their social media pages. If they are like me, quiet, reserved and private, you will only get the basics. Facebook may tell you when it’s my birthday or notify you when I am traveling or checking into a restaurant but for those personal, heartfelt thoughts? There’s no app for that.
Nourish your offline relationships. To nourish someone is to feed them deeply with something good for them. It means to give them something that will encourage them to live well. When you do this, you do not make assumptions about anything you see in the virtual reality. You are not easily offended because someone “didn’t tell you” they were traveling or gathering or graduating. You already know these things because you have built a real-life relationship with the people you love and that bond is stronger than any post, tag, or “Friendversary” that pops up in your Facebook memories.