If We Need Only 5 Friends, Why Do We Need 500 Social Media Sites?
Doing battle with an overload of new Twitter alternatives.
Updated, 6/6/23, to add Meta’s Threads. 🤦♀️
On a regular catch-up call to a friend, I asked how she was doing and she replied, "Well you know… Phoebe has that thing and...."
That thing. That thing. Phoebe is her dog but I had no idea what "that thing" was.
"Uh huh, right," I feigned while putting her on speaker phone and frantically scrolling and tapping my way through her socials.
Instagram...Facebook... LinkedIn...Twitter... Text. Oh no... Mastodon?
Her puppy post was on three of the six sites. Dear Phoebe had a heart murmur and I had completely missed the post. The horror.
Then, having found the puppy post with its details about doctors, and doe-eyed Phoebe in no mood for her usual tummy rubs, I recovered and quickly added, “Yes, and what has the vet said about her heart murmur?”
For a decade there have been a maddening number of places to find messages and posts from friends. An alert pops up on your phone and disappears with a flourish never to be seen again, leaving you wondering where the hell did that message come from? But now. BUT NOW. Since Elon Musk revamped Twitter in his image and everyone is looking for something better, there has been a new platform du jour every jour: The aforementioned Mastodon, counter.social, Tribel, Hive social, Post, Spoutible, this platform Substack and its “Notes” app, and Bluesky, which has a waiting list to get in. Bluesky was started by Twitter founder Jack Dorsey who apparently came out of his monk-like lifestyle to develop it. I guess he had a taste of the quiet life and said, Hell no, get me back to alerts and “dings” and DMs and 15-year-old memes about The Office. So far Bluesky seems to be the winner of them all, with friends texting around, “Are you in yet?" and invites selling for hundreds of dollars on eBay.
Update! And now, as of last night (6/5/23) with friends scurrying around at 2am to join Mark Zuckerberg’s new Threads, we have yet another, even heftier challenger in the post-Twitter face-off. Techies, according to the New York Times, dubbed it the official Twitter killer.
People. Do we really need more social media?
I've already been fielding so many all-day-long group chats on What'sApp, Signal, Mighty Networks and even Reddit that it’s amazing I get any actual work done — work that demands its own slate of communication apps like Slack, email, Google Drive, Dropbox and Trello. We know these tools and apps can create serious burnout — add this to my midlife brain fog and it’s the stuff of nightmares.
On a recent weekend I completely missed a meeting with a friend because my brain is so fractured. (It wasn’t on my calendar. Disaster.) Two hours later I found his message, replete with sadface: “Hey, are you coming? ” It was tucked in a Facebook Messenger post, a place I check maybe once a month. He was happy to reschedule, but I was mortified.
Such are the real-life consequences to not staying up-to-date on the socials. Several times I’ve missed someone’s new job announcement, a baby being born, or worse, the passing of a friend’s parent. Chiming in with a weeks-late “Congratulations!” or “I’m so sorry” has me feeling like an inconsiderate schlub.
How did people do this before the internet??? Well, they didn’t have 500 places to check for updates. They had the telephone, the newspaper, the church, the informative grunts from the next cave over. “Unk unk, Susie had her baby, unk.”
Even when we’re not missing the milestones, these multiple networks have created a sense that we’re always missing something. I walk around these days constantly feeling like I’ve forgotten a task — and I reckon this myriad of apps plays a big role.
I can’t help being intrigued and impressed by a few family members who have staunchly refused to embrace social media. I’m not naming names because, of course, they are extremely private.
That’s the point. They have no interest in the time-consuming, intrusive world of likes, selfies, comments, emojis and they don’t care to add to Big Brother’s personal data collection. They revel in their snubbing: “Who has time to post a selfie?? Good Lord, I’m out here living my life!”
The problem is, I tend to be the one to keep them updated.
“Did you hear Joe got married?”
“No! When was that??”
Not only am I keeping track for myself, I’m keeping track for those of you who can't be bothered.
Perhaps the pandemic has worsened this problem and we’re socializing inside our devices more than ever. I was listening to this excellent, slightly terrifying episode of the podcast Speaking of Psychology in which famed MIT professor Dr. Sherry Turkle notes that, ultimately, these networks are making us less social and empathetic.
“There's been a lot on how people say they want to go back to the office, say they want to go to the movies, say they want to get out there and mix it up,” Turkle said. “But actually when you really give them the opportunity, they're like, maybe I'll just stay in and watch Bridgerton; I'm feeling fragile.”
“The Facebook friendship, the metaverse friendship, the online friendship — yes, it gives you that sense of something,” she continued. “But it isn't the same as sitting across the table from someone and saying, ‘How are you? What's been going on?’”
It all just makes me want to move to Paris, sit by the Seine and proclaim, “Je Refuse!” Do we really need 19 new social media sites, especially when, as recent research shows, we really need only 5 close, “shoulder to cry on” friends, and, cognitively, we can really maintain only 150 known friends. (Which still seems like a hell of a lot to me.)
We know the antidote to this tech overload, to feeling more connected with our loved ones, is to spend more time together in real life, to remove tech from the bedroom and the dining table, to be present and, as an old boss of mine used to say, PUFF (Pick Up the Fucking Phone).
And look, I know I run this here website, which is essentially a community and network for Gen-X women to have great chats, find each other and share our stories, but in no way do I see this as replacing IRL conversations and meetups. (Which we’ve had many of, and will have again… but have you seen the new Bridgerton spin-off? Queen Charlotte? It’s really good.)
So while I’m not yet giving up on social media entirely, from now on, I’m going to be honest when a friend tells me something I don’t know and just say, “I haven’t been on social media lately, is your pet ok?”
And? If and when my Bluesky invite arrives, I’ll let you know my new handle.
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