Being a human is hard. Compared to other species, our existence is so much more complicated than eating, sleeping, and making babies. We have relationships and careers and hopes and dreams. We spend innumerable moments pondering questions that we know have no answer, while at the same time deciding what to have for dinner. One of my favorite quotes of all time, from (I believe) one of the best books on writing ever written, puts it this way:
"Our lives are at once ordinary and mythical. We live and die, age beautifully, or full of wrinkles. We wake in the morning, buy yellow cheese, and hope we have enough money to pay for it. At the same time we have these magnificent hearts that pump through all sorrow and all winters we are alive on the earth. We are important and our lives are important, magnificent really, and their details are worthy to be recorded."- Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones.
This, I think, was one of the original goals of social media. It was meant to give us a place to record both the mundanities and the mythologies of our everyday lives and connect with the things that are important to us. While I think it still does this to a certain extent, I also think that it is quickly becoming a substitute for real relationships and real intellectual thought. Summarizing our ideas in a tweet or Facebook status makes us consolidate our thoughts. It causes us to move from one train of thought to another too quickly, without actually thinking deeply about what we are saying or absorbing from others. That means shorter attentions spans. It means jumping to conclusions, and not taking the time to consider sides before spouting our opinions to the world. And that brings up another problem. There are so many people out there who are doing this. They are all interesting people with thoughts worth sharing. But by trying to listen to all of them at once, are we really listening to any of them?
I've been reading a lot of blog posts lately about people who have become discontented with social media. I don't know if I really fall into that category, and I'm not sure I'd be willing to delete my Twitter or Facebook accounts just yet. But what I do know is that we need to start learning how to listen to people again, and how to start thinking deeply about what we put out into the world. We are human beings and we have complex thoughts and feelings. No matter how hard we try, we will never be able to fit "all sorrow and all winters" into 140 characters.