Why Social Media Is Like My First Wristwatch

by Emily Kemme
Can you only have a good conversation in person?

I walked into a meeting one afternoon several weeks ago, feeling somewhat self-conscious. My one-and-only wristwatch had died the day before (days of a slow, lingering agony of skipped minutes, before it finally wound to a halt) but I wasn’t ready to give it up just yet. Hating that empty wrist feeling, I strapped it on the next day, wondering if people would think me odd for wearing a watch permanently stopped at 6:49.

After several weeks wearing the broken watch (because it felt right), I finally caved and took it in for service. You have to understand that it wasn’t a simple battery replacement; the appliance needed a complete (read “expensive”) overhaul. It would take at least six weeks. Don’t ask how much it cost. It’ll make you throw up. But that isn’t the point. The long expanse ahead of me, going bare-wristed, made me nervous, because I’ve had a watch obsession ever since I was five years old.

I begged my parents for a watch, informing them that, “Everybody had a watch.” At least, that’s what it seemed like, in my five-year-old-slice-of-the-Universe. It couldn’t be any old watch. I needed to have a Mickey Mouse watch, with Mickey’s arms pointing to the numbers (he was telling time, I learned much later, not just pointing). It sported a pink strap. I don’t like the color pink today, but remember, I was five. I begged for a year, but for my sixth birthday, I got it.

It took me four years to learn how to tell time.

My parents kept asking, “So Emily, what time is it now?” They’d give me prompts, like, “So if Mickey’s BIG hand is on the 12, and his LITTLE hand is on the 2, what time is it?”

I’d study the face of my watch, silently pleading with it to provide the answer that would please them, before resignedly informing my parents, “I don’t know. I can’t tell time.” It was kind of sad; the Disney magic that turned mice into coachmen and pumpkins into glittering carriages wasn’t working for me.

Everyone tried to teach me, you realize, but it wouldn’t sink in. Those neurons had not yet connected.

Learning to tell time was as scary as overcoming my fear of social media.

That’s why it occurred to me recently that navigating the seas of social media, and to a greater extent participating in e-communications, is no different from the learning curve anyone must undergo when learning to tell time. As with social networking, you cannot glance at a watch face and expect to glean an answer, unless you have some engagement with it. Both are interactive experiences, unlike sitting on a couch and watching TV, which feeds you input. The action of telling carries deep significance.

Teaching time chart. Fear of social media.

Nowadays, with cellphones and digital time readouts on our computers, it isn’t necessary to learn the skill of “telling time.” Will this be an anachronism, that it is out of place to wear a watch?

Learning about social media reveals an understanding of the world around us.

Learning to tell time reveals an understanding of the world, immersing a person in that time-space relationship. Once you get that, you realize there is more than just those six (or however long it took me to understand what those hatch marks meant) years of living. There is a past, a present, and a future, and if you’re interested, you can research your family background, how it interconnects with other families, and what impression they, and everyone else (who may have owned watches) made in history. Children can begin to understand how long it takes until dinner will be ready, how many minutes it will take to drive to school, and how long their TV show is before they have to wrap it up and head off to bed. In the process, it becomes essential to develop higher math skills, counting into larger numbers. This can be frustrating, particularly to a child. I remember standing in front of a grownup, embarrassed by the fact that for me to tell them what time it was, I had to manually count each minute between the big hand and the little hand on the face of my watch.

The possible embarrassment of wading into the ocean of social media is no different. I worry whether a comment I post in reply to a friend on Facebook will be understood in the way I meant it. There is no eye contact, no opportunity for the friend to watch my facial expressions, to recognize that I am either (a) joking; (b) very sympathetic; or (c) making a suggestion based on my experience with the topic presented. Often, I think I shouldn’t say anything at all.

Can you only have a good conversation in person? Fear of social media.

Is it anachronistic to think a meaningful conversation can only occur while looking someone in the eyes? Selfie, courtesy of mkemme.

Which is why, when I received a tweet this weekend from my gently nudging social media guru, I shuddered. She had included me in a tweet to a complete stranger (arggghhh, the angst), because the stranger tweeted about a neat contraption that somebody invented to play music on Stella Artois chalices. Lori, who reads my blog, knows how much I idolize Stella glasses (not only because of the lovely amber liquid you can drink out of them) but because of their design. There is something special about a beer company who embeds a star into the stem of their glass. It isn’t necessary; they could just put a plain old clear stem on their glasses, but instead, there is this incredible light-reflecting star. It also makes a good kaleidoscope, if you’re in the mood for looking through prisms.

So, there was this tweet, taunting me on my iPhone. I didn’t know what to do with it. Should I respond? What if I made a fool of myself? Since she’d included this complete stranger in on the conversation, wouldn’t it be best if I tweeted back to them all? Or maybe I could ignore everything, just pretend it didn’t exist — not join in and play the game.

Nervous, I considered the alternative. It was a bit like if the phone was ringing on the wall, but I wouldn’t answer it. I might never know who was on the other end. It could be a friend. It could be a political pollster (most likely). Or it could be an invitation to do something really interesting that might — just maybe — change my life, in a good and productive way. I began to consider composing a tweet in response. It felt a little like being at a virtual cocktail party. The voice in my head chirped, Think of something witty to say! Play pretend, like you’re bantering with strangers at a party. I sent out one response, and then they replied! It was almost like talking to somebody!

If you never test the waters, you’ll never know if they were hot, or cold. If you never answer the phone, you’ll never know if it was for you. If you never tweet, you may be refusing to learn something new, something different. You may be turning down an innovative way to share your ideas. So, what do you think?

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Award-winning author Emily Kemme writes about human nature, illuminating the everyday in a way that highlights its brilliance. Follow her on her blog, Feeding the Famished,  https://www.facebook.com/EmilyKemme, or on Twitter @EmFeedsYou . Life inspired. Vodka tempered.

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Monica April 14, 2014 - 12:02 pm

It does take a while to connect with someone on an email communication or a phone call. It cannot happen suddenly. It must be created. Dad’s re-acquainting himself to an old friend from Wisconsin is taking time and it is worth while. I, making a new contact with a possible friend, it takes time. And yes, you learning the minutes of a clock is a terrific example of how we must slowly delve into the minutes and seconds of the day.The e-mail connection tends to be quite shallow but in this fast scurrying world, it is better than nothing. It at least connects you.

The best is still over lunch, dinner, a drink or a cup of coffee.

Gregg Piburn April 13, 2014 - 2:56 pm

Just make sure your FB friends are, um , kinda stupid. Just joking, friends.

Emily Kemme April 13, 2014 - 3:07 pm

Suggested with a laugh, I’m sure. . .

Gregg Piburn April 13, 2014 - 6:53 pm

Most definitely. My friends are smart and sure yours are, too. Writers are among those folks who will never please everyone all time.

Emily Kemme April 13, 2014 - 6:55 pm

Yes, my friends are smart, too, which is why I worry about everything I write. Writers, who weigh every word and evaluate each potential meaning it can twist into, always wonder how any statement will be perceived. The smarter people are, the more permutations can be developed.

S. April 12, 2014 - 8:40 am

What I have decided is that social media takes up too much time, and life is too short!

Emily Kemme April 12, 2014 - 9:20 am

I don’t know, I think it’s all mainly about talking/communicating with other people around you, and it makes the world seem smaller.

Lori Gama April 12, 2014 - 8:28 am

This is so special, I don’t have words. Thank you. So glad you broke through the looking glass social media and came out on the other side just fine, in fact, dare I say: enlightened?

Emily Kemme April 12, 2014 - 8:31 am

Oh great. So does that mean that I’m Alice, and I just drank the social media Koolaid? Will I shrink??

Lori Gama April 12, 2014 - 8:41 am

No. You’ll grow bigger. You’ll attract your tribe with your vibe.

Diane April 12, 2014 - 7:42 am

I think your writing is getting better and better, that’s what I think.

Emily Kemme April 12, 2014 - 8:31 am

Thank you.


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