There are good and bad things about social media. If you’d like to hear why I love social media – as it relates to connecting with my global community, personally & professionally, read on… This post applies to sharing, but I’m writing about it from a broad, aerial view. If you’re looking for verbiage specific to art making, stay tuned for the next post. 🙂
Back in the day, before social media, many homes in America were built with deep, wrap-around front porches adorned with all manner of chairs, love seats and rugs. Families spent summer evenings sprawled with books & beverages in cushioned wicker chairs, or dozing on squeaky bench gliders. Neighbors strolling the ‘hood stopped to sit on the steps & chat. Families piled on with a posse of kids to spread out on rag-braided rugs with board games, paper dolls and comic books.
There are still homes with front porches; lovingly restored turn of the century homes with beautiful porches are plentiful where I live in Southern California, but I rarely see people on them. I attended a lecture on the history of architectural design years ago, and the presenter talked about the changes in levels of intimacy in home lay-out over time. Early home fronts were shared spaces; the porch was a social area, as was the first room behind the front door – usually a living room or parlor, followed by a kitchen, and as you receded back into the deeper arrangement of rooms, the private places were at the rear – bedrooms and back yards. The garage was mostly a utilitarian space (people rarely had cars), so it was more of a work shed, and it was often unattractive, so they were built behind homes too – in the private realm. After WWII, people moved away for jobs, or went to cities they discovered while serving in the military. The housing boom and plentiful automobiles scooted garages to the front of the house, for the driving convenience of street-to-home access, and they became private (& secure) entries with the advent of garage door openers. Porches, if houses had them, were moved to the back yard – the most private part of a house layout.
We raised our kids in a neighborhood where all the houses had garages facing the street, and everyone had a back yard enclosed with a high, block-wall. I loved my house, and my yard and my neighborhood, but we met only a few neighbors immediately next door and across the street in twenty two years there. People around us left for work in the wee hours of the morning, and came home just before dinner. I didn’t see them, but I saw their cars, pulling into the garage, and shutting the door behind them. It appeared that no one walked in our neighborhood, and if they did, we never saw them, because everyone was in the back yard. On weekends they were doing the same thing we were: taxiing kids to sports practices, driving across the city to attend an occasional family barbecue, or taking the dogs to the vet for shots – all the things we couldn’t squeeze in during the week. If we did happen upon a free morning, we spent it in gloriously quiet solitude on the back porch, re-charging our batteries with a newspaper and a pot of coffee. We often heard fragments of conversations from the back yards around us, in a palpable atmosphere of communal respite.
Opponents of social media quip that we all need to get off the computer, and go visit each other, face to face. “Social media is a lazy version of friendship.” That argument usually incites me to ask “Did we do lots of visiting before social media?” I don’t think we did. Community used to be celebrated, but now, people are a little guarded about their neighbors. We don’t often know each other. Maybe the pace of life is too fast, and job & familial obligations leave people exhausted, so they don’t have the capacity for daily visits with family and friends. (Or the convenient opportunity never presents itself without that front porch, and frequent walking.)
So, yes, Facebook likes and comments and shared photos are a more passive connection, compared to the face to face, cup-of-coffee visit. But it’s still a connection. Before social media, if I hadn’t seen someone for 8-12 months, catching up kicked off with ‘how is your family’ and ‘what have you been doing’, and the conversation meandered to light-fare vagaries as we strained to recall what the heck we’ve been so stinkin’ busy with all year. Now, with social media, I know what my friends have been doing these past 8-12 months; I’ve seen photos and left comments on a grandparent’s passing, a son’s winning basketball game, a daughter’s marriage, etc. And they’ve seen my photos and left comments too. When we meet, the conversation starts off with immediate & specific intimacy, and a heap of shared enthusiasm for every event and milestone we posted, because we’ve been present in each other’s minds through social media posts all year long.
When we lost a beloved pet years ago, I shared a photo of her and my grief on facebook. Friends and family left a generous string of loving comments. They gathered ’round, wrapped us in typed messages of supportive kindness, shared stories of their own losses, and created an instant, micro community that was as real as if they’d all lined up on my front porch to give us a hug. It was heartfelt, amazing and restorative. And there was nothing lazy about it.
My current home has a front deck, and I chat with my neighbors every week now. I see them walking dogs, mowing lawns, or hiking hills behind us. It feels very old fashioned, and lovely. I haven’t sat on a front porch or shared freshly baked banana bread with my neighbors in the past 4 decades, till now. And my social media neighborhood is also huge & festive. And it’s international. I visit & share regularly, and peruse photos of family dinners, back yard birthday parties, job promotions, videos of baby’s first steps, artists painting in their studios and toddlers sleeping on the family dog. And these are not images of strangers; these are my friends, and my family. All the things I’d see if I were strolling through the neighborhoods across half a dozen time zones and continents, visiting people I care about, whenever I want to check in and touch base. Social media is my front porch. And it’s your front porch too. Come and find me so we can have a glass of lemonade and catch up on each other’s lives every week.
On the topic of community and being connected, check out this insightful video from a Ted Talk with Yoga instructor and Instagram enchanter Rachel Brathen. Her bravery to tell the truth online, instead of posting curated, polished, marketing-seasoned posts, transformed her career, and changed her life.
Thanks for hanging out, and I’ll see you in the next post –
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What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured.