2017 was an odd year, with a barrage of startling headlines we won't soon forget. For all the revelations, the tragedies, the tiny bits of faith-restoring humanity, and our own personal stories that we struggled with everyday, 2017 was a mixed bag of emotions.
It was also a year filled with worry and questions that I kept running into, analyzing how social media had ruined much of what I thought could have been meaningful rich engagement between humans. Life had turned into a daily digital ritual to get as many people to like us as we could, without having too much skin in the game.
While I've certainly gained friendships with a very small collection of people I've met online (shout out to my Tennessee Twin) the emphasis was felt more than ever to build an online community, while our actual human community was left vacant with figurative tumbleweeds rolling by.
It wasn't completely without effort to take our sore and cramped digital pointer finger and add to it the rest of our extended palm that we nervously held out to another real human life from time to time. Media and influencer events, dinners, workshops, meet-ups, conferences, pop-ups were all being held what felt like every week. However, I noticed a pattern. They were often awkward and felt forced. You were taking people that were more comfortable engaging online but not in real life. Real human connection was lacking beyond surface talking points. A few reverted into personal promotion mode, telling others how important they were by the number of followers and freebies they got. Some sat quietly and watched saying little, as if Depeche Mode's "Enjoy the Silence" was their theme song. Some drank, and then over-drank to loosen up and cope. It felt like a true blessing if you found another "normal" you related with, and you clung to them for dear life.
Not one to put myself in painfully uncomfortable situations more than once because I am unquestionably to old to fake it til I make it, I ended up declining most invitations and sat contently at home. I observed the digital dance online from afar, seeing the same photos, the same captions, and then inevitably I would ask someone face-to-face how the event they had attended went, and then the veil came off and the truth was told. It wasn't quite as amazing, life-altering, or "epic" as the captions and images led you to believe. Some went only to post about it or to see if it was a good networking opportunity. And while there was nothing wholly wrong with those motives, (people have to do what they have to do), it had personally left me feeling like more of a tool of consumption and advertising and less of a human.
Messages came into my inbox from strangers wanting to meet for coffee and talk about collaborations. After the latte art had dissolved and a polite "no thanks, I just kinda do my own thing" concluded the conversation, those people who once digitally engaged with me quickly disappeared. I was of no value to them so they faded away like a Florida cold-front in December. While I didn't take this personally, it still added to my feelings of a becoming merely a digital tool and not a human being.
As my mother once told me in one of her many no-nonsense truth sessions "...for some people, you are only as good to them as the last thing you did for them." Relationships felt disposable in 2017 more than ever before, but this was a truth I knew twenty years ago. It has been and always will be a struggle to find meaningful, long lasting relationships. That's why I fiercely protect the few I choose to have.
In 2017 I sat on my phone for far too many hours, afraid I'd have a permanent blue tint on my face from the light that enveloped me on sleepless nights as I went down the rabbit-hole. Scrolling and scrolling, reading the same words and phrases repeatedly on others feeds. "I'm OBSESSED with you", "You are my everything", "You are perfect" and a smattering of different types of "goals" they coveted.
With every compliment regardless of its honesty, I worried that we didn't know how to dig deeper into people, many whom could be worth our admiration, with anything more than shallow meaningless buzz words and phrases.
People stood up to speak about their "truths" and hope that the personal (albeit not free) touch would connect them on deeper levels with followers, or maybe in reality just provide them with new opportunities to make money or increase their brands level of awareness. The lines were blurred more than ever before. Everything began looking and feeling the same, all while everyone claimed their authenticity. So, what is authentic when everything looks identical I wondered aloud to myself far too many times in 2017.
The badge of "community" was worn with so much pride, and I believe mostly with genuine heart. The notion of bringing people together, while shining a light on stories and struggles permeated the air, but at times with a price. I realized quickly that for some the word community equaled opportunity. They capitalized on it, taking advantage of those who wanted to be a part of something bigger, but at times the something bigger was a wallet and digital notoriety. Community came with a price that many within the community could not afford.
I wondered when exactly everything became a strategic play for pity, sympathy, glory and praise. How could one truly be themselves if behind every interaction there is a plan to share it for a reaction. If nothing is off-limits, what do we protect and hold dear? How many versions of ourselves must we morph into at any given moment to appease each audience we wish to capture? Can we continue to live as shape-shifters just to feel that we belong from one minute to the next? If our instinct now is to brag about every triumph, and share every failure so people find us authentic, raw, and real; what moments belong only to us?
There were just too many questions that I didn't and still don't have the answers to. I also have no authority to say what path is wrong or right for anyone. At this moment I hold two tickets in my hand to walk through a Museum of Ice Cream so I can capture curated nonsensical commercialism at it's height and I'm excited about it. So, what do I know?
What I am sure of is that in 2018, I want to look beyond the surface for something with a little more soul and grit. And not the type of "real talk" that is manufactured for comments. I want to find a balance to sharing what I think is of actual value to those who still want to listen, while being a little less-connected online. I want to remember what my real purpose in life is and be reminded DAILY it has absolutely nothing to do with the internet.
I've met some pretty amazing people this year, and these personal thoughts typed out shouldn't discount all the good and real that has happened in 2017, some stemming from the digital abyss I question. This is to prepare my mind for the next year and protect my intentions from being influenced. I will say that the worthiest of moments tend to have no digital footprint, just everlasting memories in our minds. More. Of. This.
I think in the upcoming year, we may have to relearn what realness is and grab hold of it tightly.
Or perhaps thanks to a potential full repeal of Net Neutrality, much of what confuses me about human nature in the digital age will vanish from my thoughts completely, because I can't imagine paying $10.99 a month to use Instagram.
Time will tell. Until then, I am forever your cynical and curious young grandma. Don't @ me.