Have you noticed how folks increasingly hate talking on their phones?
It’s part of our migration to social media, which unites us in odd ways but also compartmentalizes us. We’re finding people who love the same books, root for the same teams, enjoy the same movies, and go to the same concerts. When you hit Facebook, you may become friends with people you otherwise never would have met. You may find commonality with fellow hobbyists. You may dig deeply into politics.
But there’s one aspect of all this that’s driving me batty: Social media is the perfect place to ask all the wrong questions.
Remember when you used to pick up the phone and call someone to get answers? You know, with your voice?
That is happening less and less. Instead, I see people looking for answers in all the wrong places, like some kind of horrible online country song.
Here are some examples:
• Can someone make sure the city fills my pothole? Bad question — just call city hall.
• Is there a local law about door-to-door salespeople? Bad question — call the police and they’ll fill you in.
• What caused that accident on Rt. 2? Bad question — chances are either no one will really know or bad information will get passed around.
• Does Target allow dogs in its store? Bad question — seriously, just call Target.
• Why was McDonald’s closed last night? Bad question — go to the horse’s mouth or risk spreading false rumors.
• What were the police doing on my street? Bad question — again, the rumor mill is toxic. If you really want to know, police reports are public.
• When is bulk trash pick-up day? Bad question — first, you can get the information directly from Republic Services (or your alternate garbage disposal contractor). Second, put a sticky note on your fridge. You’re an adult.
• When will the city be redoing my sidewalk? Bad question — call the city.
The bottom line: Go to the source.
This isn’t to say there are no good questions to pose online. Here are some examples:
• What’s the best place to buy tomatoes? Good question — you’re soliciting an opinion from the community.
• Any recommendations for a trustworthy contractor to replace my gutters? Again, this is a good question because it’s qualitative. You’re looking for a referral based on experience.
• Does anyone know what businesses are hiring? Good question — while you could call around, you’re asking the online community to help you network.
• What do you think about the president’s stance on NATO? Good question — as long as it’s in good faith. If you’re looking for contrasting opinions so you can be more informed, then power to you. If you’re looking to troll, berate, and belittle, then get lost.
Look, you can’t have all the answers all the time. That’s not a fair expectation. But know where to go to get those answers responsibly. Talk to your city council rep. Show up to a council or school board or planning commission meeting. Read the newspaper.
Don’t try to crowdsource information that’s technical or takes a great deal of research. Especially avoid asking social media for legal advice. Go to the source, let us do the heavy lifting, or seek a professional opinion. The Facebook mob isn’t going to be able to give you reliable data.
I know it’s 2018 and you think your phone is for texting and tweeting, not phone calls. But trust me, it’s OK — you don’t have to be terrified of dialing that bad boy. Punch in the numbers. Don’t be walled off. Don’t use social media as a crutch.
We can’t be afraid of asking the right questions of the right people.