The restaurant is crowded; you’re sitting alone at your table, dressed up a bit, nothing too fancy. People are coming and going, there’s a group having a loud conversation, interspersed with raucous laughter. A few tables around you are filled with couples, some are quietly talking, and others are eating in silence. You've only been there for about five minutes, you’re early, and your date’s not late, not yet.
You've never met the person that you’re waiting for. You talked with them over the phone briefly, but this was set up by a friend, you've never seen your date face to face, and that makes you nervous. What are you going to do, what are you going to talk about, you don’t know very much about them, how do you learn more about them? What if they don’t like you? What if you don’t like them?
They come in, ask for your table and the hostess seats them across from you. You introduce yourself; you make awkward small talk, mostly about the menu. After you each order your food and maybe some drinks, you try to engage each other in conversation, you try to get comfortable.
As the date progresses you either get more comfortable with each other and the conversation benefits, or you don’t and the entire night is just as awkward as those first few minutes. Maybe it’s the worst date you've ever had, or maybe this person will become the love of your life. Either way, it depends in large part on that first conversation (and all the ones that come after it).
As you talk to each other, you notice things, little reactions; nervous ticks. Maybe you notice something about them that they themselves aren't even aware of; a difference between their polite smile and a real one, how one is controlled and perfect, but when they lose that control and laugh out loud, one eye winks just slightly smaller than the other. Whatever it is, it’s real, it’s true, and most importantly, it’s un-edited.
When we have conversations with people, face to face, we have the opportunity to learn things from them that we would never have known had the conversation been via different means. Perhaps you’re talking to your boss, or to a friend, maybe it’s a stranger; no matter who it is, you’re learning more about them, more about their mood, their opinions, and their personality the longer you talk to them.
The same thing can happen (to a lesser extent) when you’re talking to someone on the phone. You can hear little cues in the person’s voice; are they happy, are they mad, or maybe they’re bored or busy? These unspoken signs are what truly let us learn and get to know a person. They’re important.
But there’s a problem. We’re forgetting these signs; we’re not taking our opportunities to notice them and to learn about the people around us. Instead we resort to other forms of communication. Rather than calling up an acquaintance and asking for a date, we send them a text or a Facebook message. When we need directions, we look at our smartphones instead of asking the person next to us. We go to dinner with friends, and instead of just enjoying a conversation with the people close to us, we each Instagram and Tweet pictures of what we’re doing.
We’re told that this social media lifestyle is opening us up to a whole new world of opportunity and an entirely new level of personal connection. But it’s not true. We may have hundreds more “friends”, but not a single one who truly knows us. We’re more informed than we've ever been before, but we don’t have the information that matters.
Some people will tell you that the technology is addicting, others will say that social media is simply the way of the future and that opinions like this are outdated. Occasionally someone will make an argument stating that the advent of these new technologies is strengthening our connection to those around us and helping bond us to the human race as a whole. Whatever the reason, the use of text messaging and social media is quickly becoming more and more prevalent.
Personally I believe that it’s not the technology that is addicting, and it’s not the minimal connection with a multitude of people, it’s not even the ease of using social media to schedule our lives that is addicting to us. What we’re addicted to is the ability to edit ourselves.
We portray our personalities over the internet, but we control it. We clip out and hide the parts we don’t like for people to know about, we add in parts that aren't truly ours. We think about something over and over and over before posting it, in order to make sure that it’s just right and that it conveys the persona that we want it to.
We break things up in to…
shorter and shorter…
We do it so that the persona we’re depicting is easier to manage; we can show the world that we’re deep, witty, or clever all with just a quick one liner or a meme.
We build a wall of data and tell people that the wall is us, while our true selves whimper on the other side of it and beg for someone, anyone, to peek over and acknowledge them. We crave for someone to see the real us, and to get to know us, but to let anyone in, past that wall, is terrifying. So instead we force edits upon ourselves and force ourselves to be who we believe we should be rather than who we are. And we ignore our desire for self-discovery.
We assume that the job of finding our true selves should fall to someone else, we hope and believe that someday, someone will be able to see through the wall to the parts of us that we hold most dear. But with that mindset, we completely ignore that sometimes it’s not the discoverer’s job to find you, but rather it’s your job to be found.
When we put down our phones, our tablets, and our laptops and we look a fellow person in the eyes and talk to them, we can learn so much more about them than if we were to just stare at their wall of data. And it’s a two way street, while we learn about them, they learn about us. We barely even notice it’s happening, but it is, constantly; provided you can put down the phone.
A wall is just a wall, but we as people are more than our social media profiles. We’re more than our posts, our likes, and our comments. We’re each made up of hopes, dreams, thoughts, beliefs, kinks, quirks, opinions, and values. Every one of us has things that we’d rather hide, and things that we’d like to add on to ourselves in order to impress others. Ultimately, we are not able to change simply by how we portray ourselves online. And when it comes down to it, (as hard as it may be to believe) nothing is more impressive to the right person than you exactly as you are.
So please, put down the phone, close the browser, stop reading this, and go strike up a conversation with someone that you’d like to know something more about, even if that something is just their name. Please, stop editing yourself, let people see you as you are, flaws and all, because you as a whole person are more impressive than any wall you can ever build.