Last May, just one week after graduating from USC, I boarded a plane with a one-way ticket to New York City, dreams of journalistic success stashed in my suitcase right next to a heavy winter coat and a journal and pen to record the entire adventure. Dramatic though it might sound, I was fully prepared to begin a new phase of life, to be able to establish networks anew in a different city, and to essentially learn to stand on my own two feet outside of my comfort zone.
So imagine my dismay (and simultaneous relief) when I received a barrage of emails and texts just as soon as I touched down on the East Coast. In terms of adjusting to a new place, I felt as though mentally, I didn’t have very much to adapt to – all of my family and friends were right where I had left them, in a virtual space of Facebook messages, gchat windows and Blackberry alerts. Physically, I quickly had to adjust to the pace and the crowds and the do-or-die attitude that all New Yorkers seemed to embody, and to which my Angeleno genes were unaccustomed.
Still, moving away from home wasn’t quite what it used to be.
With advancements in social networking, I’ve learned that even in a new physical environment, I’m never alone. Starting life anew is easier said than done — the only way to do so would be to remove myself from technology entirely. Delete my Facebook account, cease the endless influx of email and hurl my BlackBerry into the Hudson. And tempting though that sounds sometimes, I know that in this century, it is impossible to do so without dire consequences.
We’ve become so engrossed with the idea of connections and networking and expanding our social circles that even the nuisance of constantly checking our email is preferable to the idea of silence and isolation. We are, after all, social creatures. And the advent of Twitter and Facebook and YouTube means that we can stay up-to-date — in real time — with what our friends are up to, and conversely, keep them posted on what we’re up to.
This seems to be the way society works nowadays. The importance of a lesson learned is overshadowed by a need to Tweet about the crazy ordeal we’ve gotten ourselves into. Every little detail about our daily lives (“Just made a peanut butter sandwich, lol”) needs to be chronicled and shared, else it didn’t really happen at all. And so distance, physical distance, becomes a seeming non-issue.
What this means, ultimately, is that social networking has bound us into an obligation to others that didn’t quite used to exist. Because while it’s lovely to be able to share photos and commentary on my day-to-day life in New York, this level of global intimacy is also now expected. If I ignored all of my virtual support systems for more than a week, people would start to wonder if something had happened, if I was okay. And this kind of interpersonal connection has become, I think, more harmful than helpful because of the expectations it has spawned.
Good for keeping in touch, bad for self-development. External influences start to drive our decisions, and introspection becomes a rarity. In my move to New York, I was torn between wanting to have that safety net of familiarity and going completely solo in a quest for self discovery. And what I found was that when I leapt and made that cross-country jaunt, I carried with me too much baggage, not all of it my own.