Social media, like a refrigerator door, can be a place to show off accomplishments. It’s also, like an old-fashioned telephone party line, a place to eavesdrop on other people’s random conversations. These are both apt analogies. I’m sure of it, because I’ve made both of them myself.
But after several months of regular morning walks with my daughter and her dog, I’ve stumbled across another apt analogy. Social media is like a tree. Or a fence post, a light pole, a bush, a lawn ornament, a rock, or a clump of grass. Anything, in short, where dogs stop to check the pee-mail.
People sit at their computers or sprawl over their phones and browse the internet, scrolling through social media until a post catches their attention. Dogs trot along the neighborhood sidewalks, strolling through the landscape until a post catches their attention. Whether browsers are using their thumbs or their noses, the goal is the same: checking for updates and messages.
Some messages are worth only a cursory human glance or a perfunctory canine sniff. Others merit a little more attention. From a human, perhaps a quick “like” or “share.” From a dog, a longer sniff and a brief liquid comment.
Other posts demand much more involvement. For people, this means watching or reading with increasing excitement and agitation, and then responding. Perhaps with strings of hearts, hugs, other sweet emojis, and lots of exclamation points. Or perhaps with rants featuring words like “idiot,” aspersions on the original posters’ education and ancestry, and lots of exclamation points. Or they might go down virtual rabbit holes, obsessively following one link after another until their internet trance is interrupted by a boss needing something like actual work or a child needing something like actual dinner.
Dogs take in their attention-grabbing posts with intent sniffing from several different angles, growing more excited and agitated with every nose twitch. Their replies take the form of a prolonged, focused stream. Then they punctuate their communication with a vigorous bout of backward grass-scratching—flying bits of debris apparently being the canine equivalent of emojis and exclamation points. Or they might try to go down literal rabbit holes, obsessively digging and sniffing until they are tugged away by the person on the other end of the leash who has the mistaken impression that walking with the dog is about exercise.
For both humans and dogs, all this posting comes down to a simple matter of messages received and messages sent. Balance is achieved; all is well. Until the next day, when it’s essential to return and check the same posts for updates. Especially when a post is your own. Even if you illogically and unreasonably publish something snarky about social media—using social media.