a rambling on social networking and what humans expect of each other
I was going to write something about shopping and then I found myself wondering about whether there’d be people feeling I was oversharing a bit, and then I found myself thinking about some of the discussions that have been going on on Google Plus about how much some people feel is ok to share. I’ve seen there that different people have very different ideas about what is or isn’t reasonable, with people like me saying stuff it, I’ll share what I want to share and you’re welcome to ignore the posts you find boring, and if you really hate it so much then just drop me – this is me, what you’re seeing is what I’m choosing to present to the world and if you don’t like it, you don’t have to keep reading it. Just don’t tell me that I’m doing it wrong, I’m doing it my way and each person is going to do it his own way and we’re each of us free to choose whose posts we want to read, so can we stop judging one another and trying to prescribe rules about what is or isn’t acceptable.
But here on Multiply it’s a bit different, isn’t it? Because on G+ we can add total strangers just because we choose to subscribe to their posts, the whole dynamics there are different, much more about interacting with strangers and a lot less about friendships – though friendships can and do develop there, and it’s great, but the stress is less on that side of things, and if you add someone it doesn’t automatically translate into any kind of relationship, you don’t even have to like them, you might add someone because they post informative techie stuff or they know a lot about, I don’t know, bee keeping. Multiply was set up originally for the purpose of keeping in touch with people you already know, it has gradually changed over time but the mutual relationship structure still reflects that – when you add someone here you invite them to confirm a certain type of relationship, and even the relationship type they added later for people you don’t know from your offline life is called “online buddy”, with the word “buddy” indicating some kind of friendly connection. (I’ve heard different people interpret the word “buddy” very differently, some seeing it as even closer than “friend” and some as less close, etc. I even heard someone once say she thought it was a strictly male term. For me it’s a specifically Multiply term – the word “buddy” isn’t normally used in England, and I can’t imagine calling anyone a “buddy” in normal conversation. /end digression) Of course there may be people here who use Multiply differently – the ones who go around inviting everyone they see – but people I’ve mixed with here have generally tended to be a bit more selective, and the general feeling I get is that here we add people when we do, on some level, like them as people and want to interact with them. We might not think of each of these people as a friend (depends on our personal definition of that term) or buddy, but we’re doing more than just subscribing to their posts and allowing them access to ours. It’s a social thing.
And also, here, we have viewing history, with its blessings and its curses. On G+ there’s no equivalent, so the only time you ever know that someone has read your post is if they’ve reacted to it in some way. The downside is that there can be tons of stuff you post and people probably read but you’ve no way of knowing, so you could get despondent, thinking no one is reading your posts – I know I read lots of posts on G+ without reacting. But the flip side is that people feel more free to read your posts, knowing that they aren’t leaving footprints. This is why here on Multiply I’ve sometimes logged out to visit someone’s site, because I’ve had all sorts of reactions from strangers whose sites I visited, you can get people taking your one-off footprint as a declaration of friendship and they come over to your guestbook with gushing responses, or you get those who are suspicious of anyone who has dared step on their [public] territory, or those who tell you off because they think it’s rude to visit someone’s site and not leave a message… *shrug* humans are weird creatures…
But I wasn’t thinking so much about strangers as about friends – and I’m using the word “friends” here in the general sense of people you’re to some extent connected with socially, people you’ve added as contacts here and there’s some level of expectation that you… what? This is where it gets tricky. We each come into these situations with different expectations. We don’t sign a contract, just as in normal life we don’t sign a contract when we become someone’s friend, it just happens, but different people have different expectations and I’ve had some interesting rows with friends over the years as a result, with people accusing me of not being a good enough friend because [fill in the blank] or vice versa – not living up to each other’s expectations of friendship.
I see the same dynamics here on Multiply.
An example that I particularly remember, from a long time ago: someone I knew from a group context invited me to be her Online Buddy. I would see her posts in my inbox and I’d read her posts and now and again I would comment. But I found that she never responded to any of my comments. and no, I’m totally not saying you should always respond to everyone’s comments – that’s just impossible. but never responding to my comments – to me that says: not interested in dialogue. Combine that with the fact that she never commented on any of my posts, and I never saw her in my viewing history, and, well, my general impression was that she wasn’t really interested in friendship with me. Then there came a day when I was going through difficult stuff emotionally and I posted something about it and got some supportive comments from friends here and it really helped and then later on I posted a thank you, saying how much I valued being able to get support from friends online, and she commented saying something along the lines of you’re welcome and I was staggered! she was so not one of the people I was thanking, she had totally not been there for me, not ever, not in the smallest tiniest way, and how dare she… so I removed her from my contacts list. I then got a private message from her saying: I’m sorry to see I have lost you as a friend. I’d love to know what her definition of “friend” is, but no, I didn’t ask, I just left it.
So, does that mean that if you are on my contacts list you must be ready to be supportive when I’m going through difficult stuff emotionally? No. Absolutely not. Just because I have a need, it doesn’t mean that you personally have to supply it. Each of the people I’ve chosen to be friends with is a unique human being with their own strengths and weaknesses. Some of you may be better at empathy than others – that’s okay! Some of you may have more time on your hands than others. Some of you may be more articulate than others. Some of you may be able to understand what I’m going through and some may not. I hereby explicitly state in our virtual contract that you are not bound to offer the right kind of emotional support as and when I need it. I’m pretty sure I won’t always be able to come up with the sort of support you will need whenever you need it. That’s just the way it is.
But leaving aside the issue of emotional support – that’s not always relevant, not everyone goes through bouts of depression and not everyone shares their deep emotional stuff here – there’s the issue of actually reading and responding to people’s posts: how often do people read? how often do they comment? that sort of thing.
I know I’ve done this sometimes: stomped my feet and ranted because people were not living up to my expectations. I think I’m learning. Maybe I’m growing up a little. Maybe I’m beginning to accept that I’m not the centre of the universe… or that, hey, guess what, people have other things to do, work or family or other friends or whatever…
Some will feel you’re not being a good enough friend if you’re not showing up in their viewing history often enough. Others will say: I saw you in my viewing history but you didn’t bother to comment! (By the way, here’s an interesting angle on this: if someone gets email alerts and if they have their email set to not automatically open images, they can read your posts and not show up in your viewing history.)
We humans sometimes place huge expectations on others (and sometimes on ourselves too). My natural inclination is to try and be there for people, to try and be a good friend, to show empathy and caring – but my experience of life has taught me that I can’t always be the perfect friend and I can’t always be there for people and I can’t always come up with a helpful response. I’m only human. I will sometimes let people down – especially if their expectations of me are unrealistic, and sadly I find humans tend quite often to have unrealistic expectations of others. Like everyone else, I have a limited amount of time and of energy. I might see a post in my inbox and think: I can’t deal with this right now, I’m too tired/rushed/hungry/emotionally drained/whatever. (And I might show in your viewing history because what I saw in my inbox wasn’t enough to alert me to what kind of deep post it is. The inbox doesn’t come with a depth filter…)
So, what’s my bottom line? I’m going to try and be more grown-up and realistic about my own expectations of other people. I’m also here to state clearly: whatever your expectations are of me, please remember that I’m only human, and I definitely will not live up to them all the time – not unless your expectations are very minimal, maybe something like I expect her to sometimes read my stuff and sometimes comment and sometimes say something that’s helpful but sometimes not and probably sometimes to respond in a totally unhelpful way because she’s human, just like me.