In my experience, it’s extremely difficult to meet someone new. I am not saying this as a lonely single girl lamenting the lack of fresh prospects in my life (as true as that may be), I am saying this as a member of a generation where we have positioned ourselves at such a safe distance from truly knowing and interacting with others that it is difficult to determine what’s genuine and what’s contrived. Think about it. It’s not often that you meet someone at any sort of social gathering that you didn’t already have some sort of prior knowledge of. Whether you have had an actual physical encounter with them or not is all but irrelevant these days.
All it takes is one tagged picture with a mutual friend and the door is wide open for discovery. Not only are you able to find out, with ease, their likes and dislikes but you are also able to see who they are friends with, what they like to do, and where they live and typically go. This is often times enough information for many people to form a fairly well rounded first impression of a person who is objectively a stranger. So when you encounter this individual in the flesh, you walk into the interaction with a thorough list of information about who they are and therefore a number of preconceived notions. From this point on, it is up to this individual to either confirm or refute the person that you already know them to be. And normally, whether you like or dislike this person, your opinion is unlikely to change. This is true for a number of the reasons, not the least of which being that people naturally look for information that will confirm what they believe to be true. This is why the cliché that first impressions are tough to shake is often accurate. Another reason is because, I have found that people are often trying to verify your research regardless of whether your findings are to your liking or not. This is because in our generation of over-sharing there is an element of choice; we only share what we want. Our social media presence is entirely determined by what we want our friends and followers to see of us. Therefore, we play up the traits we see in ourselves that we like and choose to omit the ones that we don’t. We won’t post the picture if we don’t look our best and we will go out of our way to make sure the caption is witty or funny. Because if it isn’t then what’s really the point anyway? You have to post (or be tagged in) a picture from a night out to prove it happened and show everyone you know, and potentially some you have yet to meet just how fun and social you are. Your popularity is determined by the almighty “like” and people are apt to judge if you get less than they feel you should.
We, as a generation, have created a separate world in which, rather than displaying who we really are, we promote who we want to be. So whether you liked what you saw when you stalked this person or not, just know that they liked what they have shown you. So when you meet, this is the person that they will want you to be seeing. It’s difficult to say just how far one’s online persona might be from the reality of who they are. I know people who adopt a very careless attitude with social media and expose nearly all parts of themselves, save for the parts that even they are ashamed of. I also know people who are extremely calculating in what they share. These are the types of people who will obsess over the choice of a filter or take down a picture that didn’t reach their average like threshold. I feel that its safe to say that we all know both of these types of people and that we all fall somewhere in between. But where does that leave the truth of who we really are? All we have done is add another level to the masks we create to shield the vulnerable, real parts of ourselves from the eyes of others. This simply makes it just that much more difficult to chip through the walls and actually get to know a person. This is not a condemnation of the social media generation or a call for all my fellow millennials to abandon the falsities that exist within the online sphere and its intersection with real social interaction. After all, I’m avid user of social media and it is certainly proved to connect the world in innumerable positive ways (think of all of the revolutions for social justice fostered online). This is more of a reminder that we have let Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter hold a little too much stock in our personal relationships and self worth. It’s important to recognize that there is so much more to every person than what you can find by googling them, and often it’s those parts that are most worth knowing.