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Behind The Social Media Mask, Are We A Nation of Agoraphobes?

Remember back to the days before social media had really made it’s grand entrance, back to when if you wanted to get in touch with someone, you had to use an actual landline, and then you had to actually SHOW UP on time because cell phones were not yet a prevalent part of society? Way before the days of Facebook , when you had to actually phone someone (Not text, CALL) to find out what they were up to? And a lifetime before Foursquare, which allows you to not even have to call, nor text, but simply to hit the “Friends” button to see where your companions are so that you can meet up? Remember when in order to syndicate your media pieces, you actually had to email them, rather than just posting a URL to Twitter? Remember this time? Yeah, I barely do either.

If you had told me ten years ago, when I was in the midst of my pimply, awkward, boy-terrified teens that there would soon be a world where I could do nearly all communication online or via text, rather than shaky-handily calling my crush, only to hang up three times in a row when he answered, I would’ve begged for you to transport me right then and there into the future. I have a barrage of friends who NEVER actually use their cell phones to make calls, (nor do they answer them). They ONLY text, and even if you call them, they will listen to the voicemail and then text in response. I wonder how these people got through those awkward teen years when you had to be courageous enough to live in the moment of the phone call. Perhaps, if they had answering machines, they were chronic screeners. I admit that I am prone to the cell phone screen myself. In fact, I do it a lot, and for selfish reasons: usually I just want to hear what you leave on my voicemail and then respond to it when I’m in the “right frame of mind.” I don’t want to have to think on my feet. I want time to formulate an intelligent and sound response, and then I will call you back. I think about the “screen” a lot actually, and periodically go through phases where I force myself to pick up each and every call as it comes in. I find that I am more productive and lively when I do this, but unfortunately, I’m never quite able to keep it going.

Facebook is yet another way to tactfully avoid potentially awkward situations. Let’s say, for example, that you’ve just had an argument with Friend A, and you want to see how REALLY angry they are. Well, if they are the rabid sort of FB user, all you need to do is hop online and check out their status. If they are still really pissed, you will probably know it. I think about FB a lot in terms of dating, also. There’s always that moment, when you first start dating someone, when you have to decide whether or not to make the leap. Do you befriend them immediately? Do you wait until you’ve really determined that you like each other? Or do you creepily stalk them, praying that they don’t have their profile set to private? But let’s say that you do decide to befriend them. You search for their name, and discover that THEY’RE NOT ON FACEBOOK?! How, HOW, is this possible, you wonder? Everyone is on Facebook. Even your (God help you) mother! How can you possibly get to really know this person without viewing their profile, wall comments, relationship status, and obliterated college photos? Suddenly you become a bit untrusting. What does this person have to hide that could deter them from joining the rest of society? You realize that if you wish to continue to date this freak of nature, you will have to actually ask them the questions that you are curious about.

And now of course, we have Foursquare. You don’t even have to text to find out where the party is on any given evening. You can simply identify where all of your friends are, and drop in on the one(s) that you desire to see. Foursquare is also a fantastic way to sneakily avoid certain parts of town where you may run into those that you really do not wish to see. You are once again able to avoid the happenstance of the real world.

I realize that none of this is particularly profound, and I’m certainly not the first to ponder the issue, but I do wonder where all of it is leading. Are we turning into a world of agoraphobes? Will the cell phone one day become obsolete, and instead we will simply have “text machines?” Oh, wait. We already do: the iPad. But will this become mainstream? Will we one day all just sit in our apartments and video chat, glass of wine in hand? Of course, there are a myriad of ways in which social media is fantastic, and I don’t think we need to go into that. I am a huge proponent (and abuser) of it, but I do question whether or not it’s turning us all into a bunch of scared, Xanax-popping recluses. On those days where I force myself to answer every call as it comes in, even if it is the dreaded “Unknown Number,” I find myself living in (and missing) the days of the good old-fashioned rotary phone. Behind every ring was an uncertain possibility, and you were forced to remove yourself from whatever activity you were currently involved in. Perhaps this is all just my issue, but I think it’d be nice to remove ourselves from behind our laptops, smartphones, and other social facemasks for just a bit. Too much comfort is isolating.

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