I’m an incredibly needy person.
Some of you might be surprised at this admission, others not so much. I know it’s not an easy quality to put up with, so I’m sincerely grateful to the loved ones in my life who continue to do so. I try my level best to not heap expectations upon the people in my life who are important to me, and sometimes, I fail. My girlfriend (and girlfriends of the past, and family members, and close friends) can attest to this.
This quality of my character may not be directly related to my love of socializing, but it’s certainly in the same ballpark. I enjoy being around people. It’s one of the things I love about New York City; there are plenty of opportunities to be alone in a sea of strangers. Sometimes that’s enough, other times, it only exacerbates feelings of loneliness, and can put you in some pretty dark places. In any event, I feed off of other people, and I choose the word “feed” specifically for the vampiric imagery it conjures up. If I’m being completely honest, I often worry that my intense desire to hang out with, talk to, and otherwise be in the company of friends is bordering on an addiction, or at the very least, something unhealthy and exploitative.
This thirst for approval is encouraged by social media, and while I don’t think I’m the only person who gets that dopamine rush and lightening of the soul when I see comments or notifications lighting up my phone or laptop screen, I occasionally wonder if I need to worry about how intensely it can sometimes alter my mood. When a large chunk of my friends live in cities very far from me, and when jobs, kids, and marriages further limit their time and social resources, I find it all to easy to slip into insecurity. It’s not helped by the fact that I feel social media has begun to coarsen the way we interact with one another, and that constantly being plugged in to 360-degree view of humanity can have the unintended consequence of putting us on high alert, ready to argue and defend our online projections with hair-trigger reactions. Or maybe it’s just me.
Reddit, which I was only really introduced to a few years ago (by a friend who may read this and who was very well-meaning), is probably the worst of all the tools in the social media toolbox. While reddit is useful for stumbling across new and interesting content, it also attracts a certain personality type that is emboldened and electrified by anonymous arguments. Anonymity is a key factor in examining why people act like such complete and total shits online, and Reddit takes the concept of anonymity and runs a marathon with it. The layout of the comments sections and the minimal nature of the interface can often leave one feeling as though they are drowning in a sea of unchecked vitriol, and one of Reddit’s most distinguishing features, the “Upvote/Downvote” system”, may hold the dubious honor of “most misused thing in social media functionality”.
The stated purpose of the system is to keep comment threads on-topic. Users are encouraged to upvote content that is particularly illuminating or useful, and downvote content that is irrelevant, hateful, or otherwise detrimental to a good discussion. On paper, it sounds great. In practice, it basically turns every comment on Reddit into an application for social worth that is judged by an army of faceless web enthusiasts, many of whom, frankly, have a very poor understanding of traditional social interaction and may view this chance to judge as one of the few moments in their lives when they can exercise any sort of power or agency.
Of course, the appropriate and grown-up response is to either not engage or to ignore these people, but, as someone who frequented Reddit when other avenues of social interaction were unavailable, it can feel like being driven from your last refuge of social interaction. Imagine if all of Facebook were made up of not your friends, but heaps upon heaps of names that graded you on your performance. Worse yet, like other forms of social media, Reddit began to eat into my time and productivity. It quickly transformed from something I looked at every now and again to something I checked compulsively, in a dopamine-fueled quest for connection, information, and education. And it was doing nothing but wasting my time and making me feel bad.
Maybe I’m way too sensitive (scratch that, I know I’m way too sensitive). Maybe I need to learn to better prioritize my time and impulses, and learn to adapt to the changing shape of the world around me. These are important things to consider. Whatever the case, I’ve decided that whatever positive I can glean from Reddit has been outweighed, at least for the time being, by the excessive amount of negative I feel it brings into my life, perhaps of my own shortcomings. I’m as guilty as anyone of plugging in fully to the social media model of living, and while there are certainly upsides to Facebook and Twitter and whatever else, I can’t help but feel that my involvement in these things has ceased to be a supplement to actual social interaction and becoming the driving force of it.
I’m not trying to claim any superiority, or issuing a Tyler Durden-esque screed about tearing it all down, but I wanted to apologize to anyone that I’ve reduced to a comment or a notification or a chat window. I doggedly pursue these means of interaction because I feel I have less and less access to my friends as time goes on (though that’s just growing up, to an extent), and a close approximation may be good enough. If I haven’t seen you in a while, I’d love to see you soon, or even have a conversation on the phone. I don’t think social media is the devil and I hope that I’m not going to be hopelessly out of touch and frightened in a basement within the next ten years, but I do think I myself have an issue of balance, and I’m hoping to correct it.