Has social media robbed us of social space?

Personal space.  That physical area immediately around us into which we allow some people, but makes us feel threatened if it’s violated.  How you define this area is usually based on where you live, that is to say if you live in the country you may require more space than someone who lives in the city.  Never-the-less, we all have it.  I suggest that the same is true with social media.  Our social space, if you will.  As with personal boundaries, some people are more open than others with their social space.  And that’s their right.  But as we respect the one, should we not respect the other and stop being offended when we are kept at a respectable distance?

If I just met you, I’m not likely to feel comfortable sharing where I live, where my wife works, when we are away from our home, or the names of family members.  Whether in person or on social media.  This isn’t rude, it’s prudent.  We are not friends.  We are acquaintances.

It would seem that we need to step back from the proverbial brink, and reconsider a few basic definitions.  What is and what is not a friend.  Of course, part of this is due to the linguistic evolution.  In the late 18th century a gentleman was “a man of property, not engaged in business or a profession.”  In the 1300’s, to call a woman nice was to call her stupid.  And today we dole out the title of friend like a politician hands out promises.  We have latched onto a social media label as though there are no other definitions.  Yesterday, I was a stranger.  Today we are friends.  “Friends” who suddenly have access to an incredible amount of information: names and pictures of spouses and children, places of employment, names of schools, social calendars.

For the sake of consistency, let us consult Webster:

  1. Stranger (noun) – or in the parlance of social media “public”
    1. A person with whom one has had no personal acquaintance.
    2. A newcomer in a place or locality
    3. An outsider a person who is unacquainted with or unaccustomed to something (usually followed by to)
    4. A person who is not a member of the family, group, community, or the like, as a visitor or guest
  2. Acquaintance (noun)
    1. A person known to one, but usually not a close friend.
    2. The state of being acquainted or casually familiar with someone or something.
    3. Personal knowledge as a result of study, experience.
  3. Friend (noun)
    1. A person attached to another by feelings of affection or personal regard.
    2. A person who gives assistance; patron; supporter.
    3. A person whom one knows and with whom one has a bond of mutual affection, typically exclusive of sexual or family relations.

This list is far from complete, and, for sure, there are gradients of each, such as close, trusted, or best.  Add to the mix such categories as confidant or mentor and things become even more complicated.  But none of these are, by definition, particularly bad or good.  They convey a sense of knowledge and trust.  Over time, you may move to from acquaintance to friend (and I mean this in the true sense of the word), but not on day one.

I’m not trying to lay the blame for this at the foot of social media.  Companies like Facebook were just trying to give people a means of subdividing their contact lists just like email: personal, social, business, etc.  I doubt it occurred to Mark Zuckerberg that people would be offended if they were not “friended.”  Nor could he have possible foreseen that such a distinction would become the 21st century equivalent to a high school click.  But that’s just the half of it.  We have added a vindictive edge to it.  I have “friended” you, so you must reciprocate in kind.  And curse be upon you if you do not!!!!

We live in a dangerous world.  Those of us who have lived in countries where we have experienced terrorism and violence know this all too well.  And we have seen the effect of social media abuse.  From identity theft to the loss of life.  We are on alert and for very good reason.  Most of us want to share our joys with friends.  And we look forward to making new friends.  Real friends.  So if you want to be our friends, please… go slowly, and do not take offence to our caution.  We have very good reason for it.  In the meantime, because I do not wish to exclude you from everything on my social media account, I will block you from some things and restrict you from others.  This is not meant as a slight.  The fact that we have added you at all means that we really do like you enough to include you into our circle.  Even if you have to start at the outermost ring.

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