This is a blog post that I’ve been wanting to write for a long time. It touches on what I believe to be an emerging trend, and I’m interested to hear others’ thoughts on the subject, but since I’m afraid that writing about it may cause me to never be invited to anything ever again, it’s taken me a while to get started.
When I was growing up, my entire life revolved around the telephone. My family had a computer as did most of my friends’ families, but the chances of me being signed into AOL at the same time as someone I actually wanted to talk to we’re so small that it wasn’t anywhere close to a reliable means of communication. The phone, on the other hand, was how I conducted my life. My phone was home base, and everyone I knew counted on the fact that if they called my house and I was around, I would surely answer. If I didn’t answer, it meant I was already busy and out doing something. In retrospect, the simplicity was beautiful. I miss it horribly.
Since then technology has come a long way. The phone is no longer a tool that’s tied to a specific physical place, and as a result, phone calls have become almost insulting to me. The phone beeps and rings at all hours of the day with no regard to where you are or what you’re doing. It’s no longer a simple means a getting a hold of someone. It’s now a leaky pipe that dribbles out useless tidbits of incomplete and largely inconsequential information, and yet every time the damn thing makes a noise, it consumes me, because that’s how I stay up to date on what my friends are doing. And not just generally what they’re doing, but what they’re doing right this very second, who they’re doing it with, and exactly how fun it is.
Screw you, Facebook. You created this. Ten years ago if a friend called me and invited me over, I would have been excited to have something to do. I would have gotten up, put my shoes on, been out the door, and that was the end of that. But it doesn’t work that way anymore, because now that I’m able to see exactly what all of my friends are doing, how can I possibly commit to one particular thing. What if something else comes up at the last minute that looks better? I won’t be able to go.
Even worse, how can I commit to something in advance? The only way to decide whether anything is worth going to is if I know it’s going to be fun, and I can only tell it’s fun once it has already begun, when the Facebook posts and Instagram photos start rolling in. If I tell a friend that I’ll be at his birthday party in advance, then I won’t be able to go to any of the nine other events I’ve been invited to on Facebook, even if they turn out to be way cooler. And it’s not like I can ignore the fact that there’s something cooler going on, because not only does social media ensure that I know about it, but its clever algorithms are designed to rub in your face just how much god damned fun you’re not having. As such, I’m literally compelled to wait until the very last minute before ever committing to anything.
So here it is, the bitter, dirty truth. I hate answering my phone, because any time it rings, I know there’s someone on the other end of the line who wants something from me. Most of the time that something is totally benign. People asking for information or favors or to remind me about appointments–that’s all totally cool. But every now and again, someone calls me to ask if I want to do something, and since my personality renders me completely unable to tolerate the the disappointment in people’s voices when I turn down their invitations, I invariably say yes. And then even if something better comes up, I’m stuck doing the first thing. Point being, often times I would rather not answer my phone than risk the possibility that I might end up prematurely committing myself to whatever the person is calling about.
I’ve seen the same effect from a reverse perspective as well. Facebook was created to help make bringing people together easier, but it’s had the exact opposite effect. Gone are the days of making plans in advance. I’ve literally called people to ask if they’d like to see a movie on Thursday, and their response will be, “I don’t know what I’m doing that day yet.” Let’s think about that one for a second… If you don’t know what you’re doing that day, doesn’t that mean you aren’t doing anything!? But no. As it turns out, “I don’t know what I’m doing,” is 21st century slang for “I’m not sure if there’s going to be anything better than what you just invited me to. If it gets to a few hours before and I still haven’t found anything more interesting, sure I’ll go.”
Why would anyone make plans if all they’re going to get in exchange is to be thrown into an auction where they have to bid for their friends’ time? What happened to calendars and schedules and commitments? Facebook happened, that’s what. It gave us too many options, and I’m beginning to learn that available options and willingness to commit form an inverse relationship. Facebook and social media have become a strain on the very friendships they set out to strengthen.
So if you’re reading this, I’d love to know: Am I the only one that feels this way? Am I the only one that would rather send a caller to voicemail so that I can listen to their message and call them back without being forced into premature commitments? Or is Facebook really bringing human interaction down in flames?