Why Socia Media Isn’t: In-Person Chats, Not Posts Online, Promote True Friendships

I have a confession. I’ve never been on social media.
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Illustration by Faye Rogers

I have a confession. I’ve never been on social media. No Twitter, no Instagram, no Facebook. My husband has 511 Facebook friends. My daughter, more than a thousand. My son thinks it’s necessary to apologize for his low friend count of 291. By Facebook’s definition, I have zero friends. I am OK with this.

In our digital universe, the word friend is redefined from a noun, meaning “one attached to another by affection or esteem,” to a verb—“I friended you.”

Recently at Philz Coffee in Huntington Beach, I noticed almost everyone had a cup in one hand and a cellphone in the other. They relate in instantaneous and creative ways. They like. They poke. They click. They ping. They share tweets, posts, links, and boomerangs.

I write letters and cards and make phone calls. I’m bringing a pen to
a gunfight.

Four years ago, I taught confirmation classes for high school students at the church I attend in Anaheim. We were trying to brainstorm the best ways to communicate during the year. I sent around a clipboard and asked for their email addresses and phone numbers. They rolled their eyes and laughed.

“I don’t have an email address,”
many said.

“How do I send you announcements then? Should I call you?”

“No!” they said.

Even then, kids wanted texts and group messages. Something they can read only when they need it. They want contact to be brief, convenient, and noncommittal.

Being friends with me is inconven-
ient and time-consuming. I will never let you off with a post when having a cup of coffee is possible.

My social media boycott has had repercussions. For a few years, my family put me on probation and stopped sharing pictures and updates from Facebook to coerce me into creating my own account. It only resulted in me making more phone calls.

At my 30th high school reunion, it seemed a few people were struggling to talk with me. They were confused that I didn’t already know about anything going on with them.

“Haven’t you seen my posts?” a fellow alum asked.

“No, but I would love to hear about everything now,” I answered sincerely.

A Gadgets 360 online article this year complained that “WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are no longer conduits of meaningful social interaction but toxic havens of misinformation, clickbait, and brand marketing.” The opinion piece compared social media to “an addictive drug that will either make you feel very good about yourself or aggravate every insecurity and misgiving you’ve ever felt.” The writer concluded, “What’s on your mind? Sadly, no one on social media really cares anymore.”

I care. I don’t want to merely see your vacation pictures online, I want you to tell me about them. Is your husband really the greatest dad of all time as you say on Facebook? Or do the parenting disagreements about needing to be more involved with the kids still persist? I want to decipher your facial expressions and body language to make sure the story you are telling me is what you are feeling and not a facade.

My daughter, a classic millennial, has a strong following on Instagram. Without prior knowledge or consent, my husband and I have made appearances on her Instagram Stories. She secretly films us doing embarrassing things, edits, adds music or captions, and posts. She calls our online characters by our first names and treats them as different entities.

Last year, I asked her how to write a hashtag, something I instantly regretted.

“How to write a hashtag? Are you trying to email a hashtag?” she responded as she threw her head back in laughter and typed quickly on her phone.

The next day she congratulated me. “Hey, Mom, Rosalia is killing it on my Instagram.”

When I’m introduced to some of her friends, I’ll get a knowing, “So you’re Rosalia. You’re so awesome!”

For a moment, I think it’s because of my great parenting. Then I realize it’s probably because they saw a video of me talking to my orchids.

Some people mistake my
social media reluctance with digital incompetence, which isn’t true. I get most of my information online, I subscribe to online publications, blogs, and podcasts, and I am a master with apps. Ask any question about the news or trivia, and I am the first to pull out my phone to Google it.

I use Uber and Lyft and have the best chats with drivers. I pop in the front seat and have a captive audience for the 20 minutes or so that I’m in their car.

My son is horrified. “Why do you sit in the front?!”

“They advertise that it’s like a friend giving you a ride,” I say. “It would be difficult to talk to my friend if I were in the back seat.”

Driver Marta took me from Cypress to Santa Ana and shared that Ocha Classic Restaurant on Third and Normandie in Los Angeles serves the best Thai seafood soup, a favorite dish. She revealed that it was difficult being in a long-distance relationship with her boyfriend. They text and FaceTime several times a day, but it’s not enough. She feared they couldn’t continue it much longer.

Sebastian, who works for Lyft, drove me through downtown Santa Ana past the dozens of store windows filled with glittering quinceañera ball gowns. He shared fascinating trivia about the quinceañera, the religious and cultural celebration to mark a girl’s 15th birthday.

“Do you know why it’s on the 15th birthday?” Sebastian asked enthusiastically.

I don’t.

“That’s the age the Virgin Mary was when she had the baby Jesus,” he said.

He described his sisters’ quinceañeras and hoped he would have a daughter one day so he could give her one.

I confess I am getting left behind in the world of high-tech communication, but discovering one person’s deeper story tops the cursory knowledge about dozens of people that a social media scroll dispenses. So I ask for my friends’ forgiveness for my refusal to sign on.
I am a sloth, but I refuse to be a dinosaur. I believe that sitting down with someone—listening to his or her story, sharing that space and moment in
time—is an experience that should never go extinct.

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