September 12th, 2013

Although he probably doesn’t remember it, there was a brief moment this summer when my father considered getting a Twitter account. Why? So that he could follow the superintendent of the grounds at Merion Golf Club, where they held the U.S. Open this year. Duh.

For the most part, my parents stay far away from social media. So, when my father mentioned to me that he was considering getting on Twitter, I was more shocked than anything and so I just kind of played along with it. He asked me how it worked and I decided that there couldn’t be any harm in showing him what a typical Twitter feed looked like.

So I showed him my Twitter feed. He took one look at it and said “Oh. That’s overwhelming.”

And he’s right. It is.

We don’t really think about it much because we are so used to it, but social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook are extremely overwhelming. You get all of this information thrown at you from news media and friends and celebrities and that kid you were friends with in high school who went off the deep end, but you’re still friends with on Facebook because who has the time to go through and un-friend people? And is it really possible for us to process all of it? What is the purpose of  knowing what everyone you know is doing every minute of every day?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not hating on social media outlets, I use them just as much as anyone else in our generation (even as I’m writing this column I’m watching my Twitter feed update), but I think we need to be careful with them. The danger is that if we rely on them too much, we start to get out of touch with reality. Social media can communicate what is going on in the real world, but it, in itself, is not the real world.

Social media can be really useful. It keeps me up to date on what’s going on in the news and what’s happening in the English Premier League, but the danger lies in forgetting the world around me and becoming so consumed by the screen that I forget about my fellow man. Sure, I can read about injustices happening all around the world, but what good is that if I am too consumed with the Twitter feed I read it on to do anything about it?

Another thing that worries me about social media is the kind of legacy that we will leave behind. I feel that we think a lot less about what we say via social media than what we say in real life. I mean, sure, it’s funny to tweet “Lord of the Rings” quotes applicable in everyday life, but what does that really say about me, and my life and about my interactions with other people? Fairly little.

I’m taking a class on the 19th century British poet John Keats this semester. The other day, Dr. Bilgere, who is teaching the class, said something that struck me as particularly insightful. Keats communicated with his friends and family via letters, as did everyone else. So, when people died they left behind all of these written works in the form of letters. Even if they weren’t particularly prominent individuals, there was still some sort of written record of their life. And this happened for centuries. Until very recently (by historical standards), the letter was the best way to communicate long messages. And because of that, the average person was a much better writer.

We don’t write letters anymore. I mean, I do on occasion and I’m sure that there are some of you who do as well, but for the most part we email or text or send people messages on Facebook or tweet at them.

So what are we going to leave behind as a record of our time on this earth? A Twitter feed? A bunch of emails? A Facebook page? I don’t know about you, but that’s certainly not what I would like to be my legacy. A bunch of tweets of the idiotic (but funny) things that my roommates and I say, literary quotes, potential autobiography titles and retweets of Ezra Koenig and Dan Wilber aren’t necessarily the way I would like my life to be summed up.

I’m sure that after reading this column, you’re not going to go out and delete your Twitter account and deactivate your Facebook. I probably won’t either, to be honest (although, now that I’m back from Europe, I’ve been seriously considering removing myself from the Facebook game). I do, however, implore you to remember that what’s on the computer screen isn’t what’s out in the real world. There’s a lot out there and you can’t experience it all via a little glowing box. So, every once in a while, turn off the computer, put away the phone and go live your life unfettered by social media.