Living in the Cloud

Social media is unlike any other community, if you want to call it that. People join, they quit, then come back online for a variety of reasons. The most common reason seems to be for personal beliefs, often conflated by a political party. For example, a few people in a person’s circle will post something that runs counter to his or her belief system. The resource and related comments that is shared is often accompanied with a tinge of righteousness. This sometimes leads that person into critique within the comments, and once in a while, an outright departure from said social media.

Source: Flickr (https://www.flickr.com/photos/mstable/17333910149)
Source: Flickr (https://www.flickr.com/photos/mstable/17333910149)

For the most part I have been able to stay out of this fray, even though I will post articles on touchy subjects, such as gun control. I have even been susceptible to engaging in follow up conversations on these topics, although rarely and against my better judgment. I actually appreciate when others post information that may run counter to my own beliefs about a topic. I feel smarter in knowing others’ perspectives, even if I may not agree with them.

This is not the point of this post. I’m more interested not in the dynamics of conversations in online spaces, but in how people shed their memberships with social media. Basically, I have observed people leave a social media in one of two ways. First, they go cold turkey and leave it on a whim with little to no fanfare. They are just gone. Second, they make their departure an event in and of itself. Because they have lived a part of their lives largely within the cloud, it seems like they feel obligated to make a respectful exit.

At first I thought this was a generational thing. Gen X’ers such as myself and others would just disappear. No goodbyes or farewells. By contrast, millennials, at least in my limited observations, will make a provocative statement before they leave a social media. “Because of ____________, I can no longer stay on (fill in social media).” The person’s reasons are almost always attributed to what other people have said and posted online, and the reasons are rarely about themselves, even though it is all about them. They will even delay their departure and give themselves a couple days to connect with those they felt closest to and exchange contact information.

However, I have seen examples of just the opposite with regard to age and generation. Baby boomers and beyond have referred to the relationship we might have as “friendship”, although we have never met in person, know the names of our respective family members, or even where the other person lives. On the flip side, teenagers that are often in our school to work with our younger students are rarely seen on their phones. It’s a small sample, but it does not mean it is inaccurate.

I believe there is a direct correlation between how long and how deep a person is connected within a social media and the level of relationships they perceive to have with those they follow and friend. In her book Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other, Sherry Turkle addresses this phenomena. As a social scientist, she has explored the perceived relationships people have within technology, such as a “friend” on social media, or with technology itself.

Networked, we are together, but so lessened are our expectations of each other that we can feel utterly alone. And there is the risk that we come to see others as objects to be accessed – and only for the parts we find useful, comforting, or amusing. (p 154)

It is a theory that those who are lurkers within online spaces have not developed a deep sense of belonging or connection with others. Whether young or old, they have not shared potentially provocative information and subsequently not had to engage in challenging discussions regarding the content. Turkle suggests something different: Because our connections online are mediated through digital spaces, that our reverence for others has lessened as a social responsibility. In other words, we don’t have to go to work or a place in our community and deal with our decisions. It may be the reason why it is easy to post information and, at the same time, ignore what others have to say on the topic.

So why the differences in exit strategies from social media when what someone is posting seems too much to bear? One thing I know certain is I don’t know the answer. It is a decision probably as unique to the situation as for the individual himself or herself.

I’ll say this: If I were to leave social media, it wouldn’t be because of what someone else posted that I may disagree with. Most likely, the reason would be simple: It no longer is useful to me as a tool for learning and staying connected with others I value, respect, and care about. As I said before, I like different points of view and feel smarter because of their perspective. If someone is sharing absolute nonsense, I unfollow them, mute them, whatever it takes to keep them off my feed. They aren’t allowed to dictate my personal learning network. My strong relationships with those that enrich my life the most are why I am connected in the first place.

Author: Matt Renwick

Matt Renwick is a 17-year public educator who began as a 5th and 6th grade teacher. After seven years of teaching, he served as a dean of students, assistant principal and athletic director before becoming an elementary principal in Wisconsin Rapids. Matt is now an elementary principal for the Mineral Point Unified School District (http://mineralpointschools.org/). Matt tweets @ReadByExample and writes for ASCD (www.ascd.org) and Lead Literacy (www.leadliteracy.com).

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