I spend quite a considerable amount of time on social media during any given week. It’s never really for hours on end, but rather quick sessions of about ten minutes at a time during breaks from whatever I am doing, and it can add up more quickly than one would suspect. What I am trying to get at here is that this frequent social media use is having several effects on my offline life. These effects are not necessarily ‘good’ or ‘bad’ (although some could be categorized as such), but rather strange in a very interesting way.
The vast majority of the time I spend on social media at this point in my life is spent on Twitter. Almost none of my close friends have a Twitter account, and those who do rarely use it, so why did I get into Twitter in the first place, and what is keeping me there? Well, that first question is easily answered. I initially created my account to keep up with a very small group of people who I did not know in real life, but whose work I really enjoyed. They made jokes, they shared insights into their lives, and the ability to reply to tweets from other people allowed for a degree of interaction with them. It was essentially a fun little thing that I used to see what people I liked were up to. The reason I kept using it was because I ended up really enjoying this, no matter how awful the platform can sometimes be for one’s mental health.
Now let’s skip ahead about a decade, or close to it. I’m still using Twitter, more frequently than ever, and I ‘follow’ several hundreds of people. The constant flow of information filling my feed is hard to keep up with, but I can definitely still pick out trends, and whether they are major or minor in scale and scope. Which people are talking about these things or cracking jokes, how many times do I see this trend or meme or news story on my feed, etc. This often leads to situations in my offline life where I mention or reference something that I think is a ‘big deal’ because it’s all over Twitter, but then the person I’m talking to has no idea what any of the things I’m saying mean, and I end up having to awkwardly explain the often multi-layered context, which completely kills the fun of bringing it up in the first place.
I realize time and time again that because Twitter allows you to entirely customize what you see by allowing you to choose exactly whose content you want to see, users end up accidentally creating an overinflated sense of importance for lots of different events. That one seemingly hugely important piece of news is in actuality slipping under the radar of almost everyone that does not use this particular social media platform. That one hilarious running joke (or ‘meme’) that you believe has gone utterly viral turns out to be entirely unknown offline. There is essentially a huge disconnect (although not always of course!) between what I think is well-known based on my own social media experience and what actually appears to be well-known outside of that platform.
I suppose the only real remedy for this odd little (and somewhat frequent) occurrence is to keep in mind that social media tends to blow things out of proportion, and that includes the virality of any given happening. Taking everything you see online with about a dozen pinches of salt appears to be the safest and ultimately healthiest way of enjoying it.