All Commentary
Thursday, October 6, 2016

Social Media Sense and Sensibility

If you thought social etiquette was complicated for Jane Austen, you haven’t adequately submerged yourself in millennial culture yet.

I am (apparently) entering the stage in life in which everyone I know is making very big steps in their personal lives. Every. single. time I open Facebook, someone I know is either newly engaged, married, pregnant, successfully through the birth of a child, or reminding me that one of those things happened to them in the last few weeks. One of my friends even had twins already. Meanwhile, I am taking excellent care of my IKEA bamboo plant.

Instead of “Sooo… do you want to marry them?” the question is now, “Sooo… which Pinterest reception are you envisioning?”Social media has changed the romance game, not just within the relationship itself, but also in how the relationship is seen in the world. Just a few years ago it used to be that, starting about six months into a relationship, you would be asked, “Sooo…do you think you want to marry them?” Now it seems the prevailing question skips to something more along the lines of, “Sooo… which Pinterest reception are you envisioning?”

My only consolation was the knowledge that if I did not want to expose myself to such things, I could go to other social sites. At least, that’s what I thought. But then I opened Snapchat, the platform that mostly serves to make fun of yourself and the people around you for a maximum of ten seconds, and found that it had been taken over by seriousness. Even Snapchat, my cynical refuge, had been adopted to thrust upon me the most dreaded of all news stories: an engagement.

Is nothing sacred?

Thankfully it was done by an actual friend, and not some vague acquaintance I follow to make myself feel better about myself, so I was genuinely happy for her. And her ring is gorgeous, so that obviously helps. But it made me realize that, beyond the usual relationship questions of “Do you like a soft or hard mattress?” and “Do you want to put us on Facebook now, later, or never?” I now had to consider yet another question: “What social media platform should we use to announce the engagement?”

The question seems unnecessary – and it is, compared to the mattress question – but if you are at all invested in society and wish to remain so, it’s worth considering. Each platform has a different purpose, best explained with donuts:

     Facebook: I like donuts
     Twitter: I am eating a #donut
     Instagram: Here is a vintage, vignetted photo of my donut
     Tumblr: Here is a story about a time my idiot sibling ate a donut
     YouTube: Watch me eat a donut
     Pinterest: Here is a recipe for the most magical donut ever
     Snapchat: Here is an unfiltered photo, with a lifespan of a few seconds, of the dozen donuts I’m about to eat. Now here is another photo, ten minutes later, of the half dozen donuts left, captioned “I’m going to die.”

Just think of the pressure of choosing a platform on which to announce that you have joined the ranks of the #Engaged and can rest easy knowing that you won’t die alone. Do you want to be more traditional and use something like Facebook, or do you want to be more modern and use something like Snapchat? Do you want it to seem like the engagement is happening in real time, or that it happened in the past? Do you want it to seem stable and well-established, or new and exciting? Do you want to satisfy people’s curiosity about the ring by posting a picture that doesn’t die? Or do you want to tease them and leave them asking for more by posting a picture that will disappear in a few seconds? Do you want the announcement to be primarily for your extended family, or your friends? What kind of a social legacy do you want to leave?

If you thought social etiquette was complicated for Jane Austen, you haven’t adequately submerged yourself in millennial culture yet.

In the end, I think I’ll suggest to my future fiancé that we just avoid the whole thing and tell people about our engagement either when they see the ring, or when they get a wedding invitation in the mail. Unless we invite everyone via Snapchat.