I’ve been overcome by a sense of wonder lately at how different people can be, well, different. A newer shade of awe regarding the diversity of human character has deepened this feeling more recently because of the changes in our social topography thanks to social media.
How many different ways have now emerged to get to know people from different angles! How many more ways to gain access to their deepest selves, to the inner workings of their minds and to their momentary thoughts and feelings and to the general trends of their character!
A few days ago, for example, I wrote a post in which I wondered why people might feel the need to put up pictures on their walls and what it might say about them. At some point a few days later, it was very late at night and I was just browsing my blog when an orange notification of a comment popped up. Someone had commented!
In the comment the reader said something that never would have occurred to me. Whenever he sees a picture, he wants to put himself in it. Or rather, he only hangs pictures that he can imagine himself in. He meant that he only puts up things that resonates with him (not that he is a self-obsessed narcissist, of course!)
It was just a casual comment but it got me thinking. How many different ways thoughts travel on the internet! How many different kinds of people there are here! And how many new ways to capture their momentary thoughts, aspects of their personalities and shades of their aggregate selves that you would never have realized if you passed them on the street with a simple “hi” or “hello” in front of the grocery store or at the gas station!
This reader was so different from me and yet he was thinking of the same things albeit in a different way, from a different direction. For instance, if there was a picture of me on the wall, I’d want to remove myself from it as fast as I could let alone imagine myself in it. Even a casual reflection on the glass frame of a picture makes me uncomfortable. I don’t like the idea of me looking back at me somehow. But not him!
So when I had written that post, I had only focused on why a person would hang a picture on the wall rather than how a person would want to be seen on the wall. What did that say about me?
But my idea had been taken up by someone quite different from me and had he written the post, he would have turned it into something else! Maybe someone is writing that post somewhere else in the world right now, even as I write this one.
These would be unknown people.
But the known person sometimes emerges in unknown ways on social media too. You discover aspects of known people on social media that sometimes “explains” them, makes aspects of their character clearer or even explains the reasons why you have a relationship with them at all in very deep ways. You may have known them for years but this aspect may not have emerged until you both signed up on Facebook and had enough of a social circle to post things.
The other day, someone posted a picture of a little girl, a friend’s daughter, very prettily dressed in a sari for some festive occasion or party on Facebook. She is only about five. So ordinarily she is always in kiddie dresses. The difference from her usual self in such a grown-up, grand attire was striking to the camera.
Many common friends commented. Pretty, cute, beautiful. The usual words. I was thinking the same, except with the mental addendum “Hmm! Does that make us old” with a mental smiley face attached, of course!
Sure enough another comment popped up soon from a common friend–“How pretty and grown up! She’s a little lady now. Remember, that makes us old ladies!” Smiley face. Facebook’s new emoticon.
Nice and witty! That was my instant reaction.
It was then that I thought about how I had felt a connection to this common friend all these years. How I had always thought that she was interesting. But I had never analyzed or observed closely why.
Here was an almost visual demonstration in real time about why. Wit? My kind of wit? More rigorous about things than others? Not afraid to take a bit of a risk of embarrassment in case the joke fell flat? Do I admire these qualities in people? Does it just say something about myself– that I can never be the person to simply say “awwwww” or “cute” or “sho swhweeet!!!” on baby pictures, engagement pictures and forwarded pictures of cute puppies? Maybe these are small ways in which social media reveals hitherto not so clearly thought out aspects of known people and ourselves and our relationships to others!
It’s not as though any of us are or become completely the momentary texts and pictures and likes we generate on social media. Real life is too complex and our newly emerged social media selves are only one aspect of it. This one aspect does not dominate our personalities when you meet us on the street.
But on social media, you see these aspects so clearly, character traits that often define or underlie other traits that remain hidden in the humdrum of life. That makes our social selves a real part of our real life, if nothing else.
So when I see people on social media, it’s like seeing them inside out, watching the inner workings of character more clearly. That’s fascinating for an observer of life like me.
©bottledworder, 2013. https://bottledworder.wordpress.com
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