Friends and followers?

I thought I would sort of continue last week’s discussion of What is a Friend? by talking about social media this week. Because I think that how we have come to view friendship has been greatly influenced by the phenomenon.


I have a few Twitter accounts, though right now only the @taranealewriter. My @HomeCrazzyHome one still exists but I have been less focused upon the issues of environment and autism lately than on writing. I hope to roll them all into the one and align it with a name change once we are married.

I don’t spend a great deal of time on Twitter. I use Twuffer scheduler to tweet automatically about eight to twelve times per day. I also spend about half an hour over my first cuppa coffee catching up on likes and responses. Once in awhile, something will catch my attention during the day on my phone and I will respond but not all that often. Usually, I just swipe notifications.

I have several Pinterests, but only use one (@homecrazzyhome I think). I use this one strictly for quilting, doll clothes, and sewing. Okay, I steal other people’s ideas. Don’t we all?

I hesitate to add it but I do have a Flickr account that does the same for my photography.

That’s it.

Yes, no Facebook. No, I am not the only person on the planet without one. A growing number of people are getting fed up with it. Between the way that Zuckerberg sells your data and the nasty political trolls, it is on the decline. I quit FB at the beginning of the year.

I will admit I tried to go back recently. It really is hard to keep update on local events without it. Even my old lady’s quilting club has a FB account where they post info about upcoming events. I had to leave one well-known environmental group in part because without FB I could not stay abreast of issues and events.

I honestly wanted to go back to try and flog our guinea pigs. Alan’s allergies are getting worse, so we must find new homes for the girls. And finding one home that will take four guinea pigs is not easy. I know that there is a local group that my friend belongs to and thought I might list them there.

But FB disabled my new account. I am not the first. They are shits like that. If you change name or just want a fresh start, they don’t allow for that. I know one of my trans Twitter friends had them do the same thing to his new account.

Ask me if I’m bothered?

Nope. I’ll take it as a sign from the universe and move on with other things. I think it says something that someone like my partner has never had a Facebook account. It says loads.

So, that is my social media history. Just so you know where I am coming from.

Am I one of those crazies who is totally against social media?

Not really. The positive side of things is that social media can allow you to connect with like-minded people around the world. And special interest communities can provide wonderful support for one another.

The #WritingCommunity on Twitter is an excellent example. I have had compelling discussions with writers from around the globe, some in different genres, different ages, and goals as well.

The #ActuallyAutistic community is an even better example. They are a hybrid support, knowledge, and lobbying community. In an environment where most (all?) of the major autism organizations with billions of dollars/pounds at their disposal are controlled entirely by ‘experts’ and parents/carers. Where there is only token representation of autistic people themselves on the boards of those charities, the #ActuallyAutistic hashtag is the voice of autistic people.

And they are changing the agenda. The managed to shut down an exploitative fundraiser where someone was locked in a glass box to represent ‘what it feels like to be autistic.’ Bull shit. I don’t feel locked in a glass box, I feel like I want to shatter the f*cker.

Yes, for the #ActuallyAutistic who like PanKwake may face sensory and communication challenges that make face-to-face interactions troublesome, social media has been a real blessing.

They even have their own rock stars. I won’t name names here. But I will whinge a bit that those celebrities are almost always pretty, young, white women.

Nonetheless, social media has been a dynamic platform for raising and addressing the issues of autism including the roadblocks we all face. One young woman brought to light the extreme challenges and total lack of understanding of the train companies.

Still, for most of us, social media has become yet another way that we disconnect from the world around us. We spend hours each day, liking and sharing cat pics, cute memes, and food pics. While neglecting other human interactions such as the telephone and most especially face-to-face interactions.

For the much greater part, social media is doing more to isolate us than bring us together. Nowhere is this seen more than in the political ads and trolls that abound on social media. Studies abound both pro and con on the effect of social media on political polarization, but the correlation is clear at least in terms of timing.

As for trolls, the story is likewise. But in terms of logic, it is easier to verbally abuse someone who is only words on a screen. We forget that on the other end of that keyboard is a person, a person with emotions and feelings like everyone else. Of course, the extreme of this is the rare instances where social media and cyberbullying have led to suicide, especially of teens and young adults.

For me, social media has been a huge disappointment, as has much of the internet, honestly. I crave intellectual stimulation. I deplore ‘polite small talk.’ I idealize the Transcendental Club that spawned the greats like Henry David Thoreau, Margaret Fuller, and of course, Ralph Waldo Emerson, in whom’s house they usually met.

The idea of hours and sometimes days of debate about the most pressing environmental, social, and political issues of the day fascinates me. What I would not give to time travel to just one such meeting? The unique thing about these gatherings was the capacity for spirited debate of the issues with little of it being taken personally.

The idealist in me believes that the internet could and should be a breeding ground for such logic and intellectual discourse. The pessimist points to the prevalence of cute cate pics, mindless memes (the worst being quotes from Emerson and Thoreau that sound good but are taken out of context), and those trolls. The realist? She keeps trying I suppose.

I even had a social media strategy planned for the new Facebook account that would minimize trauma and maximize effectiveness. But perhaps when it comes to FB that is a farce and being banned by them is the better option?

For me, blogging, writing long-winded essays that no one reads has become the best of social media. Oh, and stealing those quilting ideas is pretty good too. Yeah, I am glad that I did not get approved for a new FB account. I don’t need or want the hassle.

Bottom-line though is that we all need to have a social media strategy. We need to understand its benefits and limits, but even more importantly we need to know what it is exactly what we want to get out of it. In my case, what I want and what it is capable of providing are at odds. Then we need to watch how much of our most precious commodity, our time, we invest in it. I seriously doubt that anyone will say on their deathbed, “I wish I had spent more time on Facebook. Oh, the memes I should have posted.”

Most of us, yes, even introverted hermits like me, crave quality human connections. Interactions that are primarily face-to-face, even phones are poor substitutes. Sometimes we need to turn off that computer, silence our phones, and focus on the world around us. Nature and other people. Go for a walk in the park. Say hi to a stranger. Heck, start up a conversation with them. I challenge you to give it a try this week. I am going to…just as soon as I get my daily word count in.

So, are Facebook real friends? Can Twitter provide you ‘followers’? While I can think of a handful of people whom I have had meaningful interactions, yet because of distance never met, the general answer to both of those questions is not really. Besides, no one really can manage five thousand ‘friends’? Human relationships and interactions are much too complex for that.

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