Social media: The scrapbook of our time

Being a naturally private person, I have never felt social media came easily to me. I’ve often found myself sympathizing with those who criticize my generation for our tendency to overshare online, not because I see it as symptomatic of narcissism, but simply because I don’t share the same impulse. As a result, my  presence online has always felt phony and contrived. My resentment for the practice is only emphasized by the fact that I, like many, feel compelled to stay active on social media, for no other reason than my inability to remember life without it. 

None of this would be so strange if I weren’t such a sentimental person. I’ve always liked taking photos, keeping diaries, and collecting souvenirs, and I’ve always hated throwing things away. In this way, self-documentation has always been important to me, and it’s a practice that runs in my family.  

In August, I visited my grandfather, who more so than anyone I know my own age, is an ardent oversharer. Having always been a prolific writer, my grandfather made a hobby of chronicling family history after retirement. During our most recent visit this summer, he presented me with a manila envelope containing about a dozen printed pages. He explained that it was a condensed history of all the sailors in our family, dating back to the 1850s. The pages contain sophisticated descriptions of boats that our family has sailed, significant voyages they have taken, and even a brief excerpt from a diary entry written by my great grandfather.

“None of this would be so strange if I weren’t such a sentimental person. I’ve always liked taking photos, keeping diaries, and collecting souvenirs, and I’ve always hated throwing things away.”

Having spent many years as a commercial fisherman in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, my grandfather included some of his own stories as well. He compiled all this information a couple years back, but said that he was reminded of the document when he learned that I had spent the past summer bartending on a commercial cruise ship. He was pleased to learn that I was carrying on the family tradition. 

There’s one section in the document where he describes the cast of characters one might have encountered in a ship’s crew in the 1930s.

“By occupation alone they were hard men, working at a difficult, dangerous job. Individuals might be either gentlemen or the scum of the earth,” my grandfather wrote. 

Reading this made me equally as pleased to have joined their ranks.

A couple years ago, my now 91-year-old grandfather joined Facebook. Like me, he posts infrequently and seems relatively uninterested in the platform, which is a shame; because it would make staying in touch easier and I think he would be great at it. Instead, his preferred method of communication are phone calls—long ones. Unlike me, his reticence to communicate online stems more from a lack of familiarity with the platform than any feelings of self-consciousness. Were he more tech-savvy, there’s no doubt in my mind that he would come up with some excellent content, being such a natural storyteller.

Whether or not I’ll ever successfully get over my own internet shyness, I’ve come to appreciate social media as not only a communication tool, but also a means of cataloguing and recording personal history. Those quick to criticize my generation for oversharing or for being self-involved misunderstand that it’s human nature to want to record one’s experiences. From our grandest adventures to life’s minutiae, stories and storytelling remain an invaluable part of the human experience.

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