Exit 243. I had been thinking about doing the same thing.

Recently, a friend of mine who has been known to read this blog sometimes shared an article from the San Francisco Chronicle in which she was quoted.  The article tells the stories of people who, through DNA testing, discovered that they had previously unknown biological relatives.  I would imagine that such a discovery would bring up a lot of very complicated emotional reactions.  My friend (who gave me permission to share this article) now has positive relationships with multiple newly discovered half-siblings.  But not every one of these kinds of situations has resulted in a happy ending.

One of the other people quoted in this article (not my friend) mentioned having been contacted by a cousin that she had just recently discovered the existence of.  The article says that this woman thought that her new relatives “seemed like decent people,” but she unfriended her newly discovered cousin on Facebook and cut off all contact after discovering that her cousin was a supporter of President Donald Trump.  My first reaction was that this woman was being shockingly closed-minded and petty.  Cutting off family and loved ones, and questioning whether or not they are decent people, because of whom they voted for just seems wrong.

But then I realized that I had been thinking about doing the same thing.

I have some views that are not shared by many of the people in my social circles.  A certain such issue has been in the national media quite a bit lately, and I have been seeing many angry Facebook and Instagram posts on this issue.  The thought has crossed my mind that I need to do a mass unfriending on those sites, because I’m tired of hearing all this crap and feeling like the whole world is against me.  But if I were do that, aren’t I being just as petty and closed-minded as the woman in the article whose response bothered me?  Isn’t it healthy to be exposed to different points of view?

Yes and no.

What is healthy is having a fair and respectful discussion on these issues.  What is healthy is understanding where those who disagree with you come from, and why they believe what they do.  And a few of my friends have been genuinely attempting to do this when they share controversial posts.  I have no intention of cutting off contact with any of these.  But others are clearly not interested in learning about the opposite side.  They might be trying to rally and encourage their own side, or they might be trying to piss off or intimidate the opposition.  But reading that kind of thing, especially when it comes with an incorrect characterization of why I stand for what I do, tends to just make me unproductively angry.  I will acknowledge, though, that I probably have some misconceptions about their side’s motivations as well.

Should I be cutting off contact?  Should I be trying to engage these people in discussions?  I think that’s something I’ll have to decide for myself on a case-by-case basis, keeping both their intentions and mine in mind.  It should also be noted that many of the people involved I was never extremely close with, and I never see or talk to anymore, because of changing social circles or (in some cases) the other people having moved away.  I feel less bad about removing those people from social media as compared with people I see on a regular basis.  Also, it should be noted that Facebook offers the option of “unfollowing,” where someone’s posts do not show up in your feed but you stay friends and you can still see their posts if you look for them.  Instagram offers no such option as far as I can tell, but I wish it did.

So I haven’t undertaken a mass unfriending or unfollowing yet.  And it’s not something I need to decide right now.  I’ll burn that bridge when I come to it.

Exit 94. Friends or followers?

The TV show The Amazing Race, one of my all time favorites, began another season this week.  For those of you unfamiliar with the show, it has been on since 2001, running two seasons every year.  It is essentially a travel game show.  Contestants are in teams of two with some pre-existing relationship, and they apply together.  Typically, the contestants will be a couple, friends, siblings, or colleagues of some sort.  In each episode, the teams travel to some faraway location, where they compete in physical and mental challenges related to the history or culture of the place they are visiting.  At the end of each episode, they meet the host at a pit stop; the first team to finish wins a prize, and the last time (usually) is eliminated from the race.  They continue, traveling through several different countries over the course of the race, until only three teams remain in the final episode, and the first one to the finish line wins the grand prize.

This season has a casting gimmick.  All eleven teams are social media celebrities of some sort: YouTube video stars, Instagrammers with thousands of followers, and the like.  (My first reaction to this was, “I wonder if one of the challenges this season will be to jump over a shark on water skis?”)  I’m still going to watch it, but my perspective will be a bit different because I haven’t heard of any of these people before now.  To me, the fact that “social media celebrity” even exists as a way to describe someone just shows how frighteningly fast the world has changed, and how out of touch I am.

I have an Instagram.  It’s public.  I don’t post pictures of me.  I just take pictures of stuff I see.  I’m not trying to get thousands of followers, and the overwhelming majority of those following me are people I know in person.  But, as it is a public account, every once in a while I’ll get followed by someone I don’t know in person.  A few weeks ago, someone I was pretty sure I didn’t know in person started following me, and I messaged her to ask if we had met in person, since I didn’t remember.  She said she didn’t think so.  I asked how she found me, and I also pointed out that I had looked to see who she knew, and that we seemed to have a few friends in common.

“Friends or followers?” she asked.

And that was the first time it really hit me.  Most people out there in the world of social media make a distinction between the two.  And I don’t.

Much of my social life between 1994 and 2007 revolved around people I met in chat rooms.  I don’t do that anymore, for a variety of reasons.  But I’m still in touch with some of those people.  And I always thought of all the people I would meet on chat rooms and message boards as friends, or at least as people I’d like to get to know as friends.  Occasionally on this blog I’ll get comments from people I don’t know.  I try to check out their blogs when I can, and I’ve started following, and commenting regularly on, two blogs that I’ve discovered this way.  I feel like, were the situation to come up, I’d want to be friends with them, at least so far.  But I can’t expect them to feel the same way.  Not everyone wants to make friends through their blogs.  I haven’t told either of them this… and if they happen to read this, I hope this doesn’t sound creepy or stalkerish at all, because I don’t mean it that way.  And I have no intention of stalking them.  (Both of them live quite far away, so it isn’t an option anyway.)

The obsession with getting followers and not making friends isn’t the only thing that rubs me the wrong way about the existence of social media personalities.  Maybe I’m just envious of people who have these street smarts and these opportunities.  As a teenager, I would have loved to make videos.  There was no YouTube back then, and we never had enough money to have a video camera.

There’s also the fact that I am a teacher.  The stereotype I have of social media personalities with enough followers to make a living from social media is that they didn’t follow the traditional career path of doing well in school, getting into a good college, and getting a good job from there.  But there doesn’t have to be anything wrong with that.  Life changes, technology changes, and career paths change.  “Truck driver” wasn’t a common career 100 years ago.  “Computer programmer” wasn’t a common career 50 years ago.  This is just a natural evolution of things.  And making a living successfully from social media still requires street smarts.  Being a YouTube star isn’t really any different from being an actor, and being an Instagram star isn’t really any different from being a model.  Both of these careers have existed for a long, long time; the technology may have made these careers more accessible, but they haven’t really changed human nature.  So maybe I’m getting worked up over the wrong things.