Have you noticed how scary it can be to start a conversation lately? Not just with strangers either, with friends, colleagues and even family sometimes. I know I’ve typed out a hundred messages, retyped them and then eventually deleted them, just because I didn’t want to seem stupid or bother the person. I’ve heard the phrase “isn’t that something you could have Googled” that many times and seen it on countless forums, Facebook pages and YouTube comments.
Hate is a strong word and one that I don’t use often, but I absolutely HATE that phrase. We live in such a connected world, where everyone is moaning and groaning about how hard it is to socialise, but then we constantly shrug off people who try to reach out to us. What is that? I love getting messages, comments or any form of communication. Even if there’s an obvious answer, I never assume. What if that person is really shy and didn’t know how to start a conversation with me? Sure, I know that Darth Vader is Luke’s father (spoilers, soz), but maybe they just wanted to start a conversation about Star Wars and didn’t know how. I pretty much live on social media, but I can honestly say that in all my years I’ve never once dismissed a single query and told someone to look it up. Even if I didn’t know the answer, I Googled it myself just to strike up a conversation, which has lead to a few really solid friendships.
You’re probably wondering where this is all coming from right? Well, the thing is, I have developed some pretty crazy social anxiety as of late, which bugs me. I’ve been trying to figure out why I’m so afraid to chime in on a post that IGN made, where someone asked a question and I know the answer. That’s just one example, there have been many more. As a video game journalist, I’m constantly seeing people at events and thinking to myself “you look like a cool person, I’d be friends with you.” but when I get close to them, I freeze up and can’t think of a single coherent sentence. I’m a gamer, they’re gamers, surely I can find common ground easily, right? But I realized, it’s because there’s a huge thing in our culture to kind of brush people off as fast as possible. Everyone is so busy, a lot of people don’t have time to sit around and chat. As well as social media giving us the illusion of socialisation, we constantly feel like we have spent time with people, but in reality we’ve just scrolled through someone’s highlights, which is a snapshot, a selected depiction of a life and doesn’t actually offer what’s really happening.
It’s things like this that are driving us to becoming emotionless robots. We get so used to seeing everything happy in our timelines, so when someone shows an emotion other than happiness, we’re stunned. We aren’t used to seeing someone crying in the street, so we assume they’re crazy when maybe all they needed was a chat. It’s become so easy to acknowledge something with a like or a dislike that when we have to make more effort than clicking a button, it feels so unbelievably alien. A few years ago, if someone was having a baby, it would be a big deal. To meet the social standard for acknowledgment and celebration, people would call, send a letter, gather at the future parents’ house for dinner. People would interact, verbally, textually, and physically. Today, all that happens is a photo of an ultrasound goes up on Facebook and Instagram and all that is required is a like, or at most a “congrats!” comment. Imagine someone knocking on your door after posting that status to congratulate you in person, you’d be freaked out. No text? No phone call? That’s crazy…
I’m starting to realize that sometimes it’s worth trying to get in touch with someone, even if it’s just to say hey. An example of this is a few months ago I was at the EB Games Expo in Sydney. I went to a media preview night and was gifted a Star Wars goodie bag. In it was a bunch of awesome Star Wars stuff, and being a huge fan I was impressed. At the bottom of the bag was a business card for the PR Manager of Disney Australia. I was umming and ahhing for a good two days about whether or not I should email him to say that I thought the bag was awesome. I wrote maybe three emails and deleted them before I actually sent one. I didn’t know if it would seem childish or unprofessional to message someone to say thanks for something like that. It was my first real media event and I was terrified people would realize I was a rookie. But I did send an email, and now that dude is someone I would consider a good friend. We’ve worked on a zine project together and he always makes time for me, even if I’m just rattling off silly thoughts. I really like being able to bounce thoughts and ideas off someone who has many more years experience than me and I’m always excited to see what projects he’s working on. None of that would have happened if I didn’t send that email, which I honestly nearly didn’t and as it happens, I was the only one to do so.
Now, I realize the irony of this rant. Chances are you’re reading this post after clicking a link on Facebook or Twitter. Using social media to bash social media, clever right? But here’s the thing, I know that the days of knocking on a random door to see if someone wants to hang out just because I saw them on their driveway riding a skateboard are long gone. My childhood will always be reminiscent of those chance encounters where all that was required to make a friend was just to have a similar interest, or simply just to have the guts to ring the doorbell. What I will say is that as social media distances us more and more each day, I have an open door policy. Or maybe I should call it an open chat policy. I will never brush someone off and tell them to “just Google it” no matter how busy I am. I will make a conscious effort to engage everyone (minus trolls) who takes the time to comment on anything I make, or message me or tweet at me. I’m not ready to lose that side of myself just yet, because the main reason I do all of this is simply because I want to start a conversation. I want people to ask me questions and I want to have the answers. I don’t know why I love that kind of attention so much, maybe it’s because I’ve always felt like no one takes me seriously and creating content shows that I do actually know some stuff.
I think there is a lot to be said about social media, its power and how it’s uniting and dividing us more than ever. It’s incredible to think that with VR on our door step, we will be able to feel like someone is right next to us when really they are on the other side of the world. Things like that are why now, more than ever, we need to stop Googling and start asking, even if it’s just to start a conversation.