An Introvert’s Defense of Mobile Devices and Social Media
In my last post, I talked about a conversation I had with an E friend over how it can be easier for Introverts to make online friendships. She asked me about it because of that “Look Up” video that has been making the rounds the last few weeks. I hadn’t seen it at the time, but I have since, and I have Thoughts To Share.
I think the “Look Up” video is unfair to introverts, and to anyone who uses modern technology in ways that aren’t self-indulgent.
The video slams modern technology, claiming that social media seems to bring people together, but really fails to do so. It criticizes people for being addicted to their mobile devices and refusing to talk to the person next to them.
The video covers a lot of problems in modern society: rudeness (ignoring other people), a desire for praise and approval (craving likes, retweets, shares, comments, and reblogs), addiction, being dishonest about how we show ourselves to the world (sharing only the good stuff and hiding the bad), and being too wrapped up in an alternate reality that isn’t actually “real.”
I’m not arguing that these aren’t problems. But I think technology is getting too much of the blame.
These issues exist with or without modern technology.
Lots of people are rude, with no regard for others.
Everyone seeks approval in some form, by some means. Everyone wants to matter, to be okay, to be fulfilled.
People have developed addictions long before we had mobile technology.
Many, many people exist in their own isolated bubble, smartphone or no.
Everyone tries to portray the best version of themselves, off- and online. That’s what makeup, deodorant, and hairbrushes are for.
Does the modern world make all these issues easier to perpetuate? Of course it does. The point of technology is to make things easier—and that has both good and bad implications. That doesn’t mean it creates those problems. It means you need to practice moderation, and be aware of how it does affect you, and maybe look at your life, look at your choices.
Once, I was at a Christmas party, feeling awkward. I was standing by another girl, trying to make conversation, and I was not doing great. So she pulls out her smartphone, and I’m thinking, “What the hell, lady. I’m trying to make an effort here. I’d rather be online too, but I went to the trouble to come here and try to interact with people face-to-face, so the least you could do is treat me like another human being right in front of you.”
But what did I blame? Her, not her smartphone. Someone who doesn’t have the courtesy to think “Hmm, this might be rude” and resist using their smartphone for five minutes might be the sort of person who could very well be rude without the help of electronics.
When I was in the waiting room of the ER with my friend Bethany, we were both on our mobile devices, but we were also talking to each other—she was showing me what she was ordering on Amazon, and I was showing her the Facebook comments I was getting. We were using our mobile devices, but we weren’t carelessly ignoring each other, either, because healthy, balanced people can manage that. Plus, we’ve been friends long enough that we can sit in silence—mobiles or not—and not feel awkward. (At least I think so. We aren’t silent very long.)
Stuff like smartphones and social media may make it more acceptable or easier to be rude. But they do make it easier to connect with people. There’s an element of give and take, and demonizing the technology does not help.
Social media can help spread important (and unimportant) news faster, like during a natural disaster. It makes it easier to keep in touch with people across the world. Some people post baby pictures on Facebook just to brag about their functioning reproductive organs, but still others do it so that their in-laws two thousand miles away can see what their grandkid looks like. That’s what its original purpose was–it’s not the technology’s fault that people have effed it up.
I’ve reconnected with old friends and acquaintances on Facebook, and I’m glad of it. I have become closer to some “in-person” friends by using email, Gchat, and Facebook to stay in touch. I have made new friends through Twitter and Tumblr and this blog (I try to reserve Facebook for people I know in person). Are these online relationships different from those with family members, or college friends? Of course they are, but that doesn’t mean they have no value.
The end of the “Look Up” video implies you can only meet “the one” and raise a family with them (because that’s the only purpose in life, right?) when you take the time to “look up” from your mobile device. So sorry, everyone who met their spouses online. I guess your relationships don’t “count.”
According to the video, people don’t talk to strangers on the train, or at the bus stop, because they’re too afraid of looking weird, or too absorbed in their online lives. Has it occurred to the video maker(s) that people simply don’t want to be approached by strangers at the bus stop? And does the fault lie only with people using technology? Would you say that the person reading a book on the train is selfish and unfriendly, or only if they’re reading that book on a Kindle app?
The video narrator does deign say that it’s okay to read a book or paint a picture, because that’s “putting your time to good use.” But who the hell is he—or anyone—to judge what is a good use of my time?
As I write this, I’m at the laundromat, surrounded by strangers. No, I am not engaging with anyone. Yes, I am on my laptop instead. Why? Well, I still had paying, day-job work to do, and the laundromat has wifi, so I’m multitasking. I am doing my job and making money to pay my rent and food. Sorry if you’re offended that I’m not engaging in meaningless small talk with a stranger I probably will never see again. The laundromat is also busy, and loud, and not conducive to chit-chat.
A part of the video that really pisses me off is the implication that experiences are less meaningful if no one else is there. As a storyteller and an introvert who needs alone time, this offends me. (I know, I know—stop the presses! Someone is offended on the internet!) I wrote a novel and several fanfics, and I post amusing (in theory) anecdotes and opinions online. My hope is that these stories entertain people and make them think.
A lot of my stories are based on things I experienced alone, or with one or two other people, and I tell those stories to people who weren’t there. Isn’t that the point of telling stories? I’m an introvert who lives alone, who isn’t married, who doesn’t have siblings, and whose closest friends (most of them) live very far away. I do a lot of things by myself—mostly because I want to, sometimes because I have no choice. Some experiences are sweet little moments shared only by me, God, and my journal. Those moments have helped shape my character and my faith, often only because no one else was there.
Other experiences get posted to this blog or Facebook, because I think someone else will enjoy them. Just because an experience isn’t shared in person doesn’t mean it has no value. Otherwise, why are people looking forward to hearing about the road trip I’m taking by myself? Was Lewis and Clark (HA! you thought I was going to talk about a different Lewis, didn’t you? Not today)’s expedition less meaningful because only a few people were there? Or would it be meaningless if only one of them had been there? What if they had been able to post updates on Twitter? Would “Look Up” maker say they weren’t “putting their time to good use”?
Finally, the last reason viral stuff like the “Look Up” video ticks me off is because millions of people will watch it, share it, and go “OMG this is totally me!!! This really makes you think lol. #SoTrue #LookUp” and then will go on to do not a damn thing about it.
Should people go outside more? Reach out to friends and others in need? Not be rude when someone is trying to ask them a question? Should we practice a little moderation in how we use our mobile devices and social media apps? Challenge ourselves, stretch ourselves, let ourselves be a little uncomfortable sometimes?
Sure, why not? But it’s up to us, not the machines. Don’t blame the technology—it’s not doing anything except what we tell it to do.
And don’t presume to tell me what activities are and are not worthy of my time.
And now if you’ll excuse me, it’s a beautiful day outside and I’m going to take a walk. And I’m going to take my iPod with me. I might text someone while I’m out. Not because I can’t help myself, but because I do what I want.