I got to thinking the other day how seldom the topics that light up my social media accounts have any real connection to topics I hear people discussing in everyday life.
People these days say their phone “blew up’’ with some subject. I guess they mean they received several notices or messages about that topic. But often the blow-up topic isn’t what “plain folks’’ talk about in the aisle of a grocery store or the waiting-room chairs in a doctor’s office.
I’m often skeptical about topics that “blow up’’ any form of communications. Sometimes in emergency responses when I worked for the state, people would say they were “really getting slammed’’ by calls on some situation. When questioned, they’d often admit they received a couple of calls. Well, compared to no calls on a normal day, that’s quite a few. But it falls short, in my judgment, of being slammed.
When I worked full-time in news, my editors would sometimes say people were irate about something. When questioned, the editors meant they’d gotten two or three letters to the editor on the topic. Now, every reader’s letter is important, and I recognize that someone who takes the time to write a letter, address an envelope and deliver the thing to the post office is making an investment that merits attention. Still, a few letters on a topic don’t always mean people are really irate.
As an aside, I loved to get readers’ letters, because they show something mattered. I guess an email or text on a topic matters, too, but it’s so easy to send a message these days. It takes more commitment to put pen to paper and write a message. Then you have to find an actual stamp. There’s a cooling off period in that process that is lacking in an electronic message. The delete button on a computer works, but it’s so quick and easy to just hit send instead.
One of the morning news programs has a segment titled something like “What You’ll Be Talking About.’’ The person in charge picks three or four things he’s just sure will be topics of conversation that day. Many days, I haven’t even heard of the stuff he thinks will be on everyone’s mind, although the other morning he included a bit about unidentified flying objects. That might spark a little conversation around the office water cooler.
(Do offices today even have water coolers? In my state job, we read a book about how different generations respond to work situations. My generation, the old people, was described as being a group that would never quit a job. They’d just gather at the water cooler during breaks and complain. I guess that might have been how I’d have responded, but we didn’t have a water cooler.)
During the furor over whether Wyoming’s Liz Cheney would lose her House Republican leadership role, my social media platforms were filled with that topic. They were slammed, blown up, the whole bit. I happened to have an appointment with an optometrist during the height of that controversy. Were people in the waiting room talking about Cheney? They were not.
A couple of fellows over in the corner had a lively conversation about the number of walleyes one had caught on a visit to the Missouri River the previous day. An older couple next to me (I use older advisedly, given my own advanced years) had an extended exchange about the name of the restaurant they’d visited the last time they were in town. I didn’t know two people could talk so long about a trip to a café, but they managed. Each of them remembered what they’d ordered, too, and how dry the scrambled eggs were.
Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and so on are called social media, but they’re often pretty unsocial. When I think of social, I think of box socials, complete with dinner packed in a decorated cardboard box that is auctioned off. I didn’t know the people at the optometrist’s office, but I’ll bet they think that way, too. They sure were sociable, and not once did anybody say their phone was blowing up.