In Defense of Social Media (Eat My Socks, Gary Turk!)

Gary Turk – Look Up

There’s a video blazing through the interwebs, being shared among friends with lightening frenzy with notes attached: “Eye-opening.” “Guilty!” “So true.”

It’s clever. It’s thought-provoking. It rhymes.

But it’s wrong.

The tag on the video says: “This Is A Video EVERYONE Needs To See. For The First Time In My Life, I’m Speechless.” It’s pretty hard not to click on something like that, what with the CAPS and all. So I did.

The introduction to the video “Look Up” implored me to share this “vital message” with everyone I’m connected with through social media “before it’s too late.” Gary Turk, the video’s author, performer, and director has a message to share. On social media. About the dangers of social media. He wants us to unplug—decidedly after we like and share his video with the people in our online networks that he believes we aren’t really connected with at all. Rather, they rob us of important one-on-one, face-to-face, actual eye-contact time with the people who matter.

Pretty clever. An anti-social media campaign launched via social media. It’s like a warning signal of the health risks of cigarettes that might appear in smoke signals as you smoke them.

The message is simple: “The media we call social is anything but, when we open our computers, but it’s the doors we shut.”

He purports that this is a new phenomena ushered in under the dawn of Facebook.

“I have 422 friends,” he opens with, “but I’m lonely.”

Well, allow me to retort, Gary Turk. I have 763 friends and I’m anything but. My friends come from high school, the old neighborhood where I grew up, the family of old boyfriends, best friends who’d been long lost. They are family—and family of family. They span countries and continents, ages and race. They are the people who give me recipes based on what I have in my fridge at 6 o’clock on a school night when dinner needs to be on the table, pronto. They diagnose symptoms when the doctor’s office is closed, break up the tedium of long waits when it’s open. They encourage, triumph, rally, and support. And they piss me off with ignorance, sometimes. They spread false rumors and get lost in the verbiage of ideology, trying to trump one another in political arguments that get heated. They suck me into those arguments. They cost me friends. They teach me things. Inspire me to look at different things, and at the same things in new ways. They let me know that I’m not the only one who’s thought that. The comfort of a “Me too!” isn’t quantifiable.

And it isn’t the opposite of an open door.

Turk reports that playgrounds are empty due to this digital revolution. I argue that they aren’t. On sunny spring days, children still swing on swings. They play tag. But no, it doesn’t look like the same playgrounds when we grew up. The childhoods we perceive through the sepia lens of nostalgia color the reality of today. My generation was latch-key kids, riding our bikes helmet-less until the streetlights came on. Our texting was tangible in folded up notes that were passed in school hallways. And they weren’t always kind. Kids were cruel back then, too. Did parents discipline more then? I don’t know. Mine didn’t.

Childhood has become increasingly scheduled. What used to be called “play” is now “play-dates” with times for pick-up and drop-off, peanut-free snacks, and supervision. And the kids play on swings, and in parks, but also on X-Box. They wear headphones and shoot bad guys together, through virtual worlds. They might be in different rooms, but they aren’t alone. Same as it ever was, same as it will ever be. Different from when we were kids, but not so much.

Of course, there is a point to be made about our increasingly digitized culture and our smart-phone addiction. But alienation isn’t new. It has been the beast we have been fighting as a culture for as long as there was a culture. The ultimate goal of our lives is to connect, in the here and now, with others. I believe that social media helps to expedite that connection.

I offer up John Meyers as Exhibit A. John works in this company as a salesperson. He came in a month or so after I started last October. There was a quick introduction and that was that. He works in a different room—I’m in editorial; he’s in sales. There’s a necessary divide that we all respect. Besides having a common break room that we share with another office, there’s been little room for us to exchange more than surface pleasantries. The only things I knew about him was that he’d lived in England and could get away with rust-colored skinny jeans.

And then we connected on Facebook. I discovered that we went to the same college. That he’s got a cute daughter and a pretty wife. More importantly, I found out that he is a wiseass on the same level that I am. A quick wit, a take-no-prisoners commenter who could quote Grease and Arthur as quickly as I can. What might have taken years of drunken holiday office parties has been significantly reduced by some profile pics, a bio, and a newsfeed. This translates into our person-to-person interactions. It’s a shortcut.

The important distinction here is that social media isn’t a replacement for social lives, but serves to enhance them. I’ve gotten to know the PTA moms on a community Facebook page through their digital personalities that make those previously insufferable meetings a blast. I’ve connected with writers from a blog forum across the nation, and clinked glasses of wine with them one by one, or in group meet-ups in Manhattan. Facebook has made an enormous world smaller. It’s brought far away people closer.

Social media is anything but? I respectfully disagree.

Once we recognize that screen names are connected to people who are looking to connect—and acknowledge that this is an advancement toward a common goal—then it isn’t “too late.”

Please feel free to print this and hand it to someone you love. Or share it on Facebook. (Even though it doesn’t rhyme.)