I have spent the last three years of my life in an institute that values higher education (particularly in the liberal arts). I have learned things that may be similar to what others have experienced at my age. The only difference is that we now have social media and the Internet to keep us informed about things, whether we like it or not. So what does social media mean for a person who is entering the real world?
It never became a useful tool to me until my freshman year at college. I took to Facebook and Twitter to share my thoughts on the college experience, almost bragging about how I get to spend most of the week in New York City. For others, it was a dream and a day trip (or a mini vacation) to go to Manhattan. For me, it was a routine, a dreamy routine, but that was short-lived…
The fact that I went to school in Manhattan was a huge deal for me, at 18-years-old, when other people I knew went to college towns and posted pictures and status updates about their fun times in the dorms. At one point, a mutual friend would tell me about his exploits, but I could not relate to them because of my circumstances. And so my own situation was something I tried to highlight in my own profile. But at the end of the day, nothing exciting really happened because I never took it upon myself to make it happen. After spending years as a sheltered honors student, the only things I did–in my first two years of college–was study and do homework. I barely made friends, but had a lot of acquaintances. I missed my friends, but rarely made the effort to talk to them for reasons I cannot remember but are probably not valid ones.
On social media, I would try to sound clever and witty. Pop culture references and embarrassing anecdotes were my go-to’s for likes. So yes, I played into the narcissism of social media. I wanted people to think that I was funny and smart, but ultimately I was driven to create and maintain a face that would garner the likes. In my first two years, I thought that I had gained enough likes for real life conversations and encounters. But my actual behavior and candor differed from my cyber personality, and that was where I fell short in my acquaintances and relationships. Who was I trying to convince in the end?
In my third year (and this year), I learned the importance of being present and interactive with people in real life. But I will not talk about it all in one post nor make a short summary of it. Instead, I will say how my real life interactions with people ushered me away from relying on social media. At least, my motives changed: I became more interested in one-on-one conversations than online chats or messages, I attended more events than read about them on my news feed, and I felt more comfortable taking pictures of myself or having my picture taken, even if I don’t always look my best. (But I regard myself as a vain person…) In a way, I stepped out of my comfort zone, but not entirely. I still prefer my moments of solitude, and big crowds make me nervous. Nothing is ever completely anew.
But I want to make it clear that likes should never justify who you are as a person. (This goes out to you, college newbies or people who still haven’t figured it out…) People can “like” your face or “like” your status or “like” whatever you like. But are those things really you? Do people know you? Have they ever taken the time to talk to you about your interests or theirs or anything of conversational value? Can you honestly count the number of people you consider “friends,” at least on one hand?
Along the way, there will be people who know you better than you know yourself. (Cliché thing to say, but it’s true.) Those are the people you should keep in mind whenever these “likes” disillusion you from how people really perceive you. Those are the people who will call out your shit, but might actually help you realize the kind of person you are. From there, you can only hope that those people stay and witness the change in you, when you decide to become a better person. But if you end up brushing those people off, because you fail to realize the kind of person you are turning into, then that’s on you. Once you realize that those “likes” are lies, and no one has genuinely considered you as a “friend,” you are going to be left with nothing and nobody for help.
Begin to become aware of these things–the way people talk to you or act around you. Learn to read body language, to listen to what people say (does most of the conversation turn back to the person as the subject, or is it more general?), to sense that something is off-balance (tension or awkwardness in the air, or is it just you?) Ultimately, become conscientious about people and situations early on. It is a long process, but in the long run, it is what makes you a better person and a person that others can approach.