Hundreds of thousands and counting have watched it on YouTube. There have been 8,000 “likes” – and this, also, is still counting. Hundreds of people have thanked you for posting it. Your Facebook friends clebrated this particular content on your wall, and many of them have helped spread it virally by tweeting the link. As a Manchester City fan, it seems a perfect end to an incredible season.
Only you have “missed” the goal, whether you realise that or not. You didn’t absorb with your own eyes the most exciting build-up to the most sensational goal in your club’s history. You didn’t “see” Aguero evade a tackle and take aim in what must have felt like eternity. When the ball hit the back of the net, you screamed like a lunatic, only it was a controlled lunacy compared to those around you. For once in your life, it was time to hug complete strangers tighter than you ever held your loved ones. Only you couldn’t do that. You simply had to keep on shooting.
Social media is great. It reconnects long-lost friends, keeps family members in touch, spreads innovation and creativity, cures loneliness and so on. But, to quote a song, it’s probably like oxygen. If you get too much, you’ll get too high. Or you’ll get nothing, as a survey has warned.
By “nothing”, they mean you should have got more from “the moment” if you had paid less attention to sharing it with people who don’t actually matter. The Aguero example is just one of many. If you instagram every dish while having a rare outdoor dinner with your grandmother, it may just prevent you from really seeing the way she looks at you. If you’re too worried about composing the coolest tweets or status updates about a particular moment, that moment becomes something you want a friend in Chiang Mai to feel about, not what you are supposed to feel about it. In other words, if you try too hard to “capture” a moment, it may actually pass you by.
The same survey showed that people like to exaggerate or blatantly lie on the social networks. These people post content that makes them look cool or interesting. This is an issue that begs an interesting question: Does social media ease loneliness, or is it a trap that draws you away from real connections and, in effect, makes you a lonelier person without you realising it? Almost 40 per cent of people surveyed admitted to spending more time socialising online than face to face. Twenty per cent prefer texting or communicating online to face-to-face communications. Thirty-three per cent are more likely to speak to someone new online than in person.
I was recently embarrassed by a friend. We were at an outdoor restaurant and his six-year-old son was running and jumping around like a monkey, so I asked the boy if he wanted to play with my iPad. “No, don’t give it to him,” my friend said. “I want him to keep his head up and see what’s around him.” He then gestured toward a nearby table, where two cool-looking teenagers had sat in silence for ages, each playing with his mobile phone. “See what I mean?”
The boy was the kind of healthy, angelic kid who could go straight into any TV commercial. My friend and his wife love him dearly, but in their own old-fashioned way. I mean there’s more hugging than photo-taking, and more father-to-son bedtime talks than game time. And they don’t “share” him with many people.
Can we exist on social media by being who we are? Is the lifestyle we have tried to project online real, or something we embellish like conventional celebrities do? Do our posts, updates or videos make our “friends” preconceive a different kind of person? When we finally meet them in person or at a reunion, do they expect a cool and trendy person or someone battered by life, as should be the case?
At the end of the day, social media is just a tool that serves each user differently. It can widen our world, or it may only make it look as though our world has been widened. Life, sometimes, can be as specific as what happens around us. When we are too busy making other plans – like trying to capture our life so our friends in Germany can see – we may end up chasing our own life instead of living it.