That’s what it feels like to me when I think about it. Like I’m standing at the edge of a boundless ocean of people, and wave after wave of them keep rolling in at me. That’s what it can feel like when much of your life is lived in social media.
We all have our own little section of the beach, our own area of influence, where everything we do and say is reflected back to us in the action of the water before us. When we first arrive at the beach and stake our claim, the words we speak have little effect. The water is low and calm, the mass of people unaware that we even exist. But as we send more thoughts and words and actions out over the depths, the water begins to move, and the waves begin to find us.
At the very start I took the time to know each one personally, to fully experience the rushing water coming up around my ankles, only to swirl back again into the ocean, eddying around my bare feet, carving pockets in the wet sand as it left. Each one changed my world in its own little way, and I took care to notice.
After a while, as the waves get bigger, it becomes all too easy to miss the individuality of the people inside each one. I start to group them. I start to label them. One size fits all, right? This is the Philanthropy wave. This is the Business wave. This is the Can You Help Me Out wave. The Hater wave. The Diehards. The Fans, the Followers, the Competition, the Fakers, the Jokers, the Scammers. Each one gets just a quick look and a label, because they’re coming bigger and faster now, and I don’t have time to take in the full experience and examine every part of it, because I’m trying to maintain my own footing without getting tripped up in the roiling, knee-high water.
Pretty soon I get to the point where I can look out into the distance, five or six crests out, and tell who’s coming and what they’ll want . . . and how I’m going to treat them, too. Do you do that? Think about it for a minute. It’s to the point where I have to have a plan of attack (or rather, defense) so I don’t get buffeted around by the sheer volume of the incoming rush.
And then, once in a while, a tsunami comes in. Fast, hard, and gigantic, I see it barreling down on me, and know I can do nothing but brace myself. Surely I can’t run – after all, I’m the one that brought it here. It’s coming directly for me. It’s my wave. If such things were possible, it would have my name on it. And when it all comes crashing down, it’s laughable to even think about capturing the individuality of its members. I’m just trying to survive, period.
After the flood has receded, and god willing I’ve kept my head above water the entire time, I begin to question what I’m doing on the beach in the first place. Is this what I envisioned when I first came here? Of course not – it never is – but is it better or worse than I thought it would be? It’s a tough question, one I’m sure you’ve asked yourself.
The impact I’m making on the ocean is obvious, but what of its impact on me? Soaked to the bone, muscles sore, breathing heavily . . . I’m tired. But at least I’m still standing. We all heard the roar and saw the wall of water that came down on Jason Russell and dragged him back out to sea a couple months ago. If I’m being honest with myself, I realize that in less fortunate circumstances that could have been me. It could have been any of us.
The questions keep coming: does everyone feel like this, or is it only me? Are we as individuals prepared for and comfortable with this one-to-millions form of interaction? Are some of us naturally built for this, or is it something we all have to learn? I’m sure many of us struggle with these same thoughts, just as I do. I don’t know any of the answers, but I do know that we all do the best we can.
Along the way it is truly a joy to see those who have taken their little stretch of beach and turned it into something lovely. Professionals like Amanda Hite, who has found a way to authentically make both money and meaning, and helps businesses do the same. Newcomers like Hannah Brencher, who has taken her gift of writing and given it to the world in a way we can all use to encourage others.
And right in the middle are people like you and me, who are standing, falling, struggling, learning, and growing in all of this each and every day. The ocean is intimidating, but it is also beautiful.
I believe we will find our way. Do you?
(Image source: mikebaird)
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