When I was around 11 or 12, I took part in “Jump Rope for Heart,” a nationwide skipping contest to help raise money for the Heart and Stroke Foundation. Participants would go door to door, ask friends and family, and do anything else they could to sign up as many donors as they could. Then, you skipped rope for a specified amount of time (15 minutes?) and raised money depending on how many skips you skipped. More skips equalled more money for the HSF. You get the idea.
While I don’t remember how much money I raised or how many people I signed up, I do remember that I skipped more rope that day than anyone else at New Central Middle School.
At the time, I suppose it was a noteworthy accomplishment. There are things I’ve done since that eclipse it and there are things I will do that will certainly eclipse it but at the time, it felt pretty good.
Thinking back to that story got me thinking about life before social media. Think back to a time when Facebook and Twitter didn’t exist. Not so easy, right? Doesn’t it seem like they’ve been around forever? That day at New Central was in 1994. That’s nine years before MySpace, 10 years before Facebook and 12 years before Twitter.
Back then, with the Internet in its infancy, social media didn’t exist. Email and chatting (ICQ anyone?) were just starting up but that’s about it. If mentioned, words like Facebook and Twitter would have been met with a collective “Huh?” from the crowd. Back then, the word “sharing” was primarily used in sentences like “Would you like to share that with the rest of the class?” or “Hey don’t smoke it all. Share.”
Not in a million years did anyone think that a “share” icon would follow pretty much damn near everything on the Internet. Or that we would be able to share any thought we had with everyone around the world with an Internet connection at the click of a mouse.
The point is this: If social media was the force it is today back then, most people would have certainly “shared” the skipping accomplishment with their Facebook friends or the Twitterverse. Lord knows far less important tidbits have been posted.
But in 1994, that option wasn’t available. And does that diminish the relatively unimportant but still noteworthy accomplishment? (I will continue to call it noteworthy. I don’t care what you say.) Certainly not. In the same vein, does sharing an accomplishment with 1,000 of your so-called friends elevate it? In no way, shape or form.
If Twitter and Facebook were around 40 years ago, imagine the online reaction when, amidst a wee bit of controversy, Canada invoked the Wartime Measures Act in response to the October Crisis in 1970s Quebec? Or when Canada beat the Russians in 1972? Or when Quebec passed Bill 101 in 1977, restricting English schooling only to those children whose parents attended one? Or when the Charter of Rights and Freedoms was created in 1982? Or when Quebec came within an inch of becoming its own country in 1995?
These events are indisputably important to Canada’s history. And the fact that nobody Facebook’d them or tweeted about them doesn’t make them any less so.
When the school bell rang, I‘m sure I recounted the story to my parents and my grandparents, my brothers and my friends. It may have come up at family gatherings or in a friends’ basement while Mario Kart was displayed on the much-heavier-than-it-needed-to-be TV, the way TVs tended to be back in the nineties.
These days, people share everything. That’s not to say all people. I have some friends who don’t have Facebook at all and others who use it extremely sparingly. Most people I know are not active Tweeters although many will follow the ruminations of people they’ve seen on TV, in movies or in various sports.
That being said, I do find it fascinating how so many people’s first reflex when something happens that is deemed noteworthy is to share it with their friends and quasi-friends (Facebook) or strangers and quasi-strangers (Twitter).
When news of Jack Layton’s very unfortunate death came along, “RIP Jack” was the status du jour. Like clockwork, people wanted others to know that they too will miss Jack. When his open letter to Canadians was made public, copy and pasting the last few beautiful words became the new status of the day (for those of you who don’t speak French). Similarly, when Bin Laden was killed, arguably the biggest worldwide news development since 9/11, people took to Twitter and Facebook en masse to offer their reaction.
It’s not that the killing of Bin Laden wasn’t newsworthy or that the death of Jack Layton wasn’t shocking and saddening for Canadians, no matter their political stripe.
I think part of my problem is that big stories like these produce an arms race of sorts to be the first among your friends to post it. There is a certain level of pride when you are the first to know something and posting it on Facebook or Twitter is living proof of this.
For the record, I’m a fan of social media. I think it’s made the world a more connected place and probably a more transparent one too. At the same time, maybe I’m a bit of an old soul. Whatever happened to grieving in silence? Why feel the need to share, share and then share some more?
Now excuse me while I go post this on Facebook. Seriously.