Social media?

A woman in Portland, Oregon, has shut herself off from society in an attempt to show whether online interaction is a satisfactory subsitute for in-person interaction.  Newspaper to New Media characterizes it as a sort of experiment, stating that she aims “to learn how technology walls people off even while connecting them.”  Her site itself explains it as not an experiment, but as a kind of performance art, and her living quarters, showcased on a city street, are a companion piece. 

If it’s art, I’m not the judge (the only significant art I own consists of a handpainted pig on the wall and my children’s crayon drawings covering my office door like wallpaper).

But as experiment, I have a few things to say about this.  It offends me not as a scientist (as a scientist, I love seeing nonscientists try changing the variables to see what happens – the basis of some of the greatest experiments), but it offends me as a cancer patient.  Unless handled carefully, work like this belittles the vast experience that people who live this every day have.  That people who suffer from depression, agoraphobia, isolation, disesase, or compromised immune systems live with every day. 

There are many people for whom social media is not just a fun distraction on the commute home or between meetings, but for whom social media is a lifeline. . . their only interaction with the outside world, and one that is vital to keeping their own sanity.

I ranted in a blog comment:

How privileged, do be able to do this as an experiment.  Why not just ask those of us who have to live this, or a form of this everyday?  I’ll give you a hint: many cancer patients in treatment, with compromised immune systems, are largely confined indoors when treatment season (4-6 months) conflicts with flu season. Many of us have found solace, and friendship, and a way to keep up with our lives through social media.  I know I have.

I have, and I’ve written about the way that blogging is my window to the world, both as a mother of very young children needing frequent naps (remember those? as many as five a day for the littlest ones?) and then as a woman in chemotherapy, with an immune system not strong enough to fight off flu season, as in 2007.  My immune system is strong as I fight cancer this time (I have the white blood cell counts to prove it!), but it does take me longer to shake off infections; I’ve been down for a week with the latest preschool virus.

Which makes the count nearly 3 weeks that one or the other of us has had a fever and such, precluding playdates and coffees, and Mommy’s too tired for any activity after noon, so it’s been pretty quiet around here.

Very quiet.

Is online interaction a satisfactory subsitute for in-person interaction?  No.  Hell, no.  But some days, it’s the best you’re gonna get, and for that, I am grateful.

Know someone who is isolated from the world because of a new baby, an ailing family member, or the simple ravages of old age?  You CAN help make it better for them, not by “like”ing something on Facebook or RT’ing it on twitter – but with a simple phone call.  Go ahead.  Use those minutes on your cell phone this month.  Call Grandma or that nice old lady from the church who smells like peppermints.  Ask that shy mom with two kids under 3 to coffee at the park — or ask if you can bring her a treat from Starbucks.  Spend your facebook time today on the phone instead, or dropping by a friend’s house (after calling!), talking and connecting with someone who may not have any other contact with the outside world.  Do your own experiment, and find out whether that makes you feel better than another round of Words With Friends or bringing someone an item for their Facebook Farm.  And come back and let me know.  Maybe I’m wrong in the post above.  Maybe this is a good social media experiment in the reverse — and maybe, just maybe, your particpation could make someone happy.

Happy Thanksgiving, my American friends, and Happy Day-That-We’re-Alive to all of the rest of you around the world.  This year, as I have every year since 2006, I give thanks for not the institution of social media, but the friends that it has brought me and allowed me to keep through the isolation of early motherhood and severe illness.  You are so important in my life, and in the lives of so very many others. 


22 Responses to Social media?

  1. Susan,
    I agree. We’re going on week two of solid colds, runny noses, coughs, fevers, etc, and I am yearning for interaction with other human beings who don’t share my home.

    As soon as we’re healthy–after this holiday I’m hoping–I’m bringing the kids over to spend an afternoon in your gravel pit. I don’t care how cold it is.


  2. I dunno Susan, I read it the same way you did. I think some folks just don’t have the experience or exposure to realize just how “tunnel vision” something like this appears to others who have an expanded world view.

    Kind of like when Barbara Ehrenreich wrote “Nickel and Dimed” and reserved the right for her to own a car. Anyone having experience with those making a “living wage” know that transportation is the MAJOR obstacle for those folks and makes it almost impossible to find and even keep employment. Made me dismiss her book in a way others didn’t.

    So I smell what you’re steppin’ in here.

    • whymommy says:

      I agree with you about Ehrenreich too. What a privileged experiment! Was talking with those living that life not sufficient? Did she try to do that first, and it just didn’t get enough attention?

      How very lucky we are as a society in this place and time to be able contemplate these things as diversions, rather than every day struggles in our own lives.

  3. Amen! I wonder if there was performance art about the telephone?

    • whymommy says:

      I admit it. I don’t understand performance art. Unless, of course, it involves The Bloggess and an old, very old typewriter. Then I’ll stand in line for it.

  4. ella says:

    I agree too. My son has a supressed immune system and is frequently home sick or in hospital and so I am too. Last year, except for the school run, I barely left the house for about six months. Social media was my lifeline then, it kept friends close and brought me new friends. I can’t say it any simpler than that.

    Wishing you a very happy Thanksgiving x

  5. Maggie says:

    When I became a SAHM 14 years ago and was the ONLY SAHM in my neighborhood–plus was slammed with horrible PPD–my online friends and connections were the ONLY social life I had. To this day I am grateful for those ties, because had I not had them, I truly would have lived 8 years in isolation. And to this day–14 years later–I still consider these women my “real” friends–just saw one a few weeks ago when she was in DC!

    People like this don’t understand that “new” media is, in fact, not that new at all–it was around way before Twitter, Facebook and the rest of the current crop of tools, and will be around long after they’re gone.

    Hugs to you and your family. I usually only lurk here but I have been following your journey and think of you often.

    • whymommy says:

      You’re welcome here anytime, Maggie, as a lurker or otherwise. I keep up with you mainly on twitter, but I’m going by your place on the net now!

  6. Bon says:

    i agree with you…the experiment seems to ignore the fact that she’s trying on people’s real lives. real lives that many don’t choose but still need to navigate. i don’t see how her conclusions could do anything but belittle those experiences in a reductionist manner.

    it is a privilege to be able to integrate social media into a broader social life…but as someone who has had almost no time left for any kind of interaction this fall, i can tell you i too am deeply grateful to social media for providing me with some kind of human outlet and balance so that my own isolation under deadlines doesn’t shrivel me entirely. 🙂

    sending love from my house to yours.

    • whymommy says:

      And back again!

      It made me chuckle to see that the post I was remembering from 2007 actually was in response to one of yours. I suppose we’ve been friends now for a long, long time … my PEI pal!

  7. Miss Britt says:

    I think the conversation she’s starting is still important though. Because while this is a lifeline when you CANNOT get out into the world, so many people don’t take advantage of the opportunity that you don’t have to get away from social media and out into the real world.

    Even I don’t often enough. When I’m out in the real world, I’m almost always connected to social media in some way, and that can (and has) interfered with my connections with the people right in front of me.

    • whymommy says:

      Ok, that’s an excellent point, Britt! It’s fun to have someone disagree with me (it means I’m healthy enough to take it! – do you know this blog has only ever had ONE troll?). I swear, when I’m healthy again, I’m going to be extra sure to keep up with my friends IRL. Book club night, moms night out again, game night — whatever it takes.

      Good friends are hard to find, and so precious to keep.

  8. Stimey says:

    I so vividly remember that post you wrote about the internet as a window. It was a great post. I haven’t seen this project yet, but I agree with you so completely that social media can be such a lifeline.

    I know that in the special needs community, social media is a way to connect with people that simply may not exist near you. And for people with communication issues, this way of talking is a life line.

    I think that it’s definitely an interesting subject to talk about, especially for those of us so firmly entrenched in this social media world—for those of us, for whom the social media life IS real life.

    • whymommy says:

      Yikes! You’re right, @Stimey, um, I mean Jean!

      We have woven our real lives and our social media lives together haven’t we? And no two of us do it in the exact same way.

      I love what you’ve done with AutMont and WashTimes and HopefulParents and all the places you write to connect and share and teach and learn online. So powerful, so present — and such a lifeline for parents facing a new diagnosis of autism, or simply wanting to learn more about the boy in their child’s class.

      We are living in a wonderful time, with wonderful opportunities.

  9. C. Mom says:

    I could not agree more! There is so much to learn and do in the online world- and I feel fortunate to interact with amazing people like yourself. but the monents when you are face to face with a person that you love, or in a situation that makes your insides all happy…those happen in real life…and cannot be replaced.

  10. If the aim of the performance art experiment is to provoke intelligent discussion and examination of the role of social media in otherwise isolated lives, I think she has achieved her aim with your significant assistance! 🙂
    Happy Thanksgiving to you, my online friend.

  11. I have to agree with all the above both the lifeline that it is to us in treatment and the isolationist aspect you can retain afterwards. After my uni exams finished I had a week where I isolated myself from both social media and to a certain extent ‘in real life’ social interaction as I just need some total ‘me’ time.
    My oldest daughter (25) and I even though living in the same town tend to communicate through social media everyday and let each other know the incidental happenings. Bigger news/worries warrants a phone call. and we see each other approx once a fortnight for face to face catch ups. Other friends whose schedules not mesh with mine (especially those with special needs kids still at home) appreciate being able to catch up with me on facebook or see my holiday snaps. but you do run the risk of letting it be the way you always communicate. One of my resolutions for this next year is to keep track of how long it has been since I have spoken to a particaular friend by phone and in person and make sure that all our interaction isnt just through social media.
    Then there is the fact I wouldnt be friends with you if it wasn’t for social media, and being a woman with IBC itself is isolating in real life because of the rareness of it and the lack of understanding of how aggessive and different it is than most other breast cancer.
    Sorry to write a mini-blog post as a comment LOL didnt realise I had so much to write until I started
    Happy thanksgiving

  12. Andrea says:

    I know it must seem hard to believe that there really was life before the internet… but for those of us who lived it, we know it to be true. Cancer came before the internet… stay-at-home moms isolated on family farms came before the internet… having to keep our sanity for various reasons, on various levels, was a task that came before the internet. It’s hard to fathom, isn’t it? 🙂

    I had multiple pen-pals that helped me keep my sanity. I would send & receive a couple letters per day… & looked so forward to hearing the motor of our letter carrier’s mail truck coming down the road. I would read a lot of books. I would talk on the phone a lot, to various family & friends. I would do endless cross-stitch pictures & plastic canvas kleenex box covers. My children & my husband were my best friends & oh, how I’d look forward to interaction with them everyday. I would subscribe to magazines of interest & read them backwards & forwards… the newspaper too.

    Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. And yes, Susan, there is life without the internet & social media. Many of us believe a better life, to boot. But now that the genie is out of the bottle, how do we put it back? *sigh*

    Praying for you~ Andrea

  13. Brie says:

    I think that unless you are actively involved in social media you just don’t get it. It is hard to explain to someone outside of it just how much the friends you meet online can mean to you. And I wouldn’t give them up.

  14. indeed. as a one-time mom of three under three, the internet was (is) my lifeline… but it would’ve been really nice for someone to call or stop by rather than commenting on my fb pictures. (still would).

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