Benjamin Mann is a young professional currently living, working, and dating in Toronto. More of his writing can be found at yourbrainondating.com.
Most of us have been trained to look for red flags. And thank heavens for that.
Doomed is the romantic whose radar can’t pick up signals for “liar”, “narcissist”, or “manic pervert”. Much of our effort in the quest for love, and the quest for avoiding failure in general, goes towards “not making that mistake again” and embracing the nuanced education of retrospect.
And between content technology and a North American epidemic of willingness to gargle and spit just about anything, we’re actually getting trained pretty well. Our spidey-senses are sharpening all the time and our collective inventory of red flags is more extensive than a Boston Pizza menu – nutritional hazard numbers and all.
But since red flag training is part of evolution, things are naturally changing all the time.
Back in the 40s it might have been a red flag if you had a German accent or you didn’t own a Slinky. But then the 80s rolled around and red flags became things like sniffling a lot and owning a pager. Now, in 2014, we can tell a lot about someone by the way they use social media tools like “The Book”, “Insta”, and “Le Twitter”.
Yes, I just made Twitter French and no, I have no idea why.
But when you’re looking for flags, how a person reacts to social media is just as important as how they use it. Specifically, if someone renounces social media entirely through discourse or drastic measures like deleting Facebook, closing their Instagram account, or tattooing a dead blue bird on their ankle, that person has got some real issues. And you need to find out exactly what they are before making any commitments.
Are they spiraling from a break-up after seeing pictures of their ex with a new squeeze? Are they depressed about their paycheck after choking on a string of exotic vacation posts? Do they think they’re unpopular or perhaps some kind of failure? Do they have an addictive personality? Are they uncomfortable with attention? Do they just hate stuff a lot? It’s something.
Step one is figuring out what; step two is figuring out why.
Look – I get it. Sometimes you need a break from the noise. Dads napping with babies is literally a snoozefest and if I want to look at a beach in Cuba I don’t need a pair chubby thighs and a manicure in the way. And most of the time, I don’t care what people think of Rob Ford or who they went to the Jays game with. But when I feel like I need a break, I just take a break. I don’t check into Facebook rehab and practice calligraphy in a park.
Imagine someone was taking a break from alcohol; a common, rational exercise. Now imagine that in order to successfully take that break, they had to first smash every last bottle of booze in their house and never enter a liquor store.
At first, I was impressed. Now, I’m just worried.
It’s not the desire to step away that’s concerning. What’s concerning is the inability to rationally co-exist with an on-demand experience that is almost entirely controlled by the individual demanding the experience.
I use social media for things that make sense for me. Facebook is primarily to promote my writing, facilitate one-step connections to thousands of people, and to manage event invites. Instagram is to kill time in the bathroom and Twitter is to remind me that idiots get way too much attention. It’s entirely up to me when, how, and if I use it; whether or not there’s a little appy logo thingy on my phone.
And don’t give me the “I don’t want other people knowing my business” speech. First, if you don’t want people knowing your business, don’t tell them. Second, WHO CARES?? Nobody is getting tagged in photos of tax returns or being forced to live-Tweet their therapy sessions. So everyone can just chill about the privacy thing, okay?
But that’s the problem: some people can’t just chill. And that’s the red flag.
I respect everyone’s right to do what they want, when they want, as long as they’re not causing unjust harm to others. I don’t think everyone needs to use social media, nor do I believe that anyone should be pressured into its culture. It’s an optional set of tools that offers both positive and negative exposure.
But if you’re going to exercise your right to do a comprehensive social-digital clean-up, then I’m going to exercise my right to assume that the real mess still needs mopping.
Even if the writing might not be on a Facebook wall, it’s still on a wall somewhere.