Imagine someone you consider a social butterfly. You likely conjure to mind a person whom you believe to be incredibly invested in their social interactions; who seems to invest time in cultivating relationships with others. In envisioning this person, I’m guessing you saw them at social functions, or at lunch gatherings with acquaintances, or involved in community affairs. I’m also guessing that at no point did you make the jump from social butterfly to hitting “like” on a social media page. Perhaps the label of “social media” is not actually as fitting as we have been led to believe?

On Facebook, I am friends with 775 people and have 57 followers, but I’m going to be honest, I doubt, if quizzed, I actually know all of those human beings. When I really ponder this idea, it seems the social media term “friend” is implying a relationship that doesn’t truly exist between me and most of those people. However, using the term “friend” certainly allows one to feel valuable, or cared for, or like they are invested in a social life… but how true is that, really? So often people say they are on social media to keep up with their friends, but yet when I log onto Facebook, all I usually see are emojis and brief comments. If I were at lunch with someone, really desiring to connect with them, and all I responded to them with was a thumb up, I don’t imagine either of us would experience much human bonding. My point here is that I think we are all being a bit deceived by social media.

When I scroll through the social media pages of people I genuinely know, I often think of how much more interesting the person is than their page really shows. I have some friends who post five or more times each and every day. Perhaps it’s the counselor in me but I often find myself wondering what it is they are really searching for when they are so eagerly reaching out. What part of their life needs support, or acceptance, or reassurance, or acknowledgment, or love? Are they actively hoping to incite others into a political fury? Are they trying to make others laugh? Are they marketing their entrepreneurial endeavors? What kinds of attention are they seeking and why? Let me be clear, this is not about judging others, but rather trying to genuinely understand their needs in the hopes of cultivating a social connection that serves their life in a fulfilling way.

When it’s a dear friend’s birthday or an acquaintance is deeply grieving, do you feel a desire to reach out to them through text, or messenger, or a phone call, rather than an emoji? Why do you think that is? Perhaps you also, subconsciously, recognize that a clever meme might serve the masses but when it’s someone you truly care about, you go beyond social media to make a human connection. That, to me, really sums up what I’m hinting at here. Now, giving a thumbs up doesn’t mean you don’t authentically value another person, that’s not what I’m saying. Rather, I’m saying is that those types of responses, while reflecting a moment of personal consideration, also speak to the investment we are offering. And, if we want more whole connections with others, then we will need to move beyond the limits of social media to cultivate those types of relationships.

I often write about how I believe vulnerability is the key to human connection. But, there is a valuable component of that that must be stressed – it’s two people being vulnerable together that creates a bond. So, when we think about those individuals who are reaching out multiple times each day, with their vulnerability hidden behind memes, or vitriol, or photos of their lunch, perhaps we might take a moment to touch base with them to see what it is they are actually needing. Ideally, proving to them that they don’t need to hide in such ways to be accepted, or heard, or loved. Maybe if we committed to doing this for those we consider “real life” friends they might not feel the need to project an image of themselves rather than making time to connect in literal ways with others?

Yes, I have a Facebook page, and I’m guilty of all of these things. But, when I really pay attention, I can recognize that I post more when I am feeling lonely, or anxious, or am desiring true connection. And, what I also can see is that while I might get a spike of comfort from received emojis I am also often quickly returned to those initial needs and left wondering if my relationships actually extend beyond a quick thumbs up.

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