Well, it’s been several days since I’ve been off all the big social medias. I’m not counting exactly how many days, because that would make me feel like I needed to find a twelve-step group, and I don’t want to do that. So far, the effects I’ve noticed from the change have been pretty awesome. It feels like I’m “back to my true self,” like Rip Van Winkle waking up from his long nap. Except, of course, not that extreme. Except, what the hell am I saying, of course it’s that extreme! Well, it feels that extreme anyway. I’ve either used, wanted to use, or wanted to quit social media since its birth. And– as recovering addicts are wont to do– I will now tell you the history of my dependence.
For me, it all started with AOL Instant Messenger, probably in 1997 or ’98. My first screen name was RoseofVersaiIIes* and I mostly chatted with my church friends, Summer camp acquaintances, neighbors, and of course, forbidden strangers (good band name!). Yes, that’s right. I disobeyed my parents and chatted with strangers and boys– every day during my allotted thirty minutes of computer time. Ah!– I can still remember the thrill of that window popping up to tell me that someone not in my contacts wanted to chat with me. [Chatrooms never made sense to me– I’ve always been better one-on-one with people, in person and online.] Anyway, to make myself feel better about the whole “disobeying my parents” thing, I decided that the sole purpose of my being in these strangers’ lives was to convert them to Christianity. One guy I chatted with on-the-reg was a Muslim, and after the usual “I’m not here to talk about sex” conversation, we talked about religion. A lot! It was interesting. Another one was an atheist– I even remember his screen name– biceprilly, ha! wow! He [claimed to be] a severely depressed seventeen-year-old kid in Texas. And I was a pretty fucking depressed pre-teen, but with the vocabulary of a real teen, so we chatted each other out of the darkness many a time.
Anyway, AIM was relatively harmless, potentially even beneficial in my life. I think the thrill of chatting with a stranger was my favorite thing about it. The biggest downside was probably the skill of deception I was beginning to master. Although, that might have been a blessing incognito, who’m I to say.
Then blogs came along! I believe I started my first blog in the year 2000, on xanga.com. If I’m remembering correctly, it was xanga.com/merelycarla. Don’t bother looking, it’s not there anymore. For the most part I blogged about my friends’ and my crushes, using code names like Fish and Eagle, to name a few, and of course I dabbled in self-loathing poetry and angsty soliloquies detailing my desire to be a better Christian and stop sinning all the time. I liked about xanga that you could force your visitors to listen to your favorite songs while they were on your page. So naturally, I had The Echoing Green’s new hit “Supernova” playing on a loop. Yeah!
Blogging has been good for me, from the beginning. I’ve always been better able to express my thoughts in writing than in person. One of the downsides to blogging was– and is– that I can be too honest, and sometimes forget that saying things in a public forum can have unintended consequences. Twice in high school, I was trolled by my pastor’s youngest son, who obviously was so wise, so mature, and so much more experienced in the world, he felt it was his duty to publicly shame me, a girl ten years younger than him, for having a crush and mentioning it online. I still kind of hate him for that. I don’t even want to imagine the nightmare kids these days go through.
Honestly, it’s not surprising at all that you hear about kids dying by suicide, directly related to public shaming via social media. When/if a child doesn’t feel accepted or “free” to be themselves in “the real world,” they have to have an outlet somewhere, and social media sure does look harmless from the outside. It’s your own virtual life– you get to decorate your page however you want, write whatever you want, invite whoever you want to be your friend. So charming. But of course, we can live neither our virtual nor actual lives free from outside influences.
All of that is to say– blogging, for me, has become a natural extension and expression of my life. As I become more honest in the flesh, I’m becoming more honest on the blog– and sometimes it’s the other way around. Overall, I’ve learned that being honest and vulnerable, regardless of the transmission vehicle or target audience, requires stones of steel and a completely open heart. One without the other makes a raging bull or a miserable pantywaist. Both of which, I have been, and am, from time to time. Ask Adam.
MySpace happened in 2003, and H-E-double-hockeysticks yes, I was on that bandwagon, along with the rest of the teenagerdom. Surprisingly though, I don’t have many memories of MySpace. Probably because I was too busy blogging, journaling, drawing, and being angsty. That was most of my teenaged life.
But THEN the behemoth Facebook reared its ugly head. It had been around for a while, but I remember the day when I got my own account. It was 2006, I was eighteen and visiting my sisters at college in Nashville. I remember the computer room where I first saw Anna Laura on her own Facebook page. I had thought it was only-ever going to be accessible to college students, but it just so happened that that year, they’d opened it up to anyone with an email address. So I joined! And that was the beginning of my cruelly dependent, obsessive-compulsive addiction to social media.
I joined tons of other platforms and took tutorials on how to get more followers, friends, increase my network, my reach, my influence, my engagement, my credibility, and my monies. Looking back, it’s like I was hoarding megaphones, in hopes that they would eventually give me something to say. A megaphone amplifies your voice, not your message, and definitely not your ability to listen. Facebook (and the rest of them) has tried, and done a decent job of making the user’s experience less isolating and depressing, but I think what they– and most of us– fail to recognize in the platform, is that it doesn’t give you anything you don’t already have.
I just watched an episode of Star Trek (TNG “First Contact”) where a civilization realized that they weren’t ready to integrate the fact of “aliens” into their culture, and I recognize that I might sound like the same variety of luddite for rejecting mass social media, but I’d like to think, anyway, that that isn’t what I’m doing. I know that it’s a fact of life now, and it’s only going to get bigger and flashier from here, and that’s fine. There will always be addicts, and there will always be the normal people who can consume without becoming addicted. I just think that I, for one, am healthier and happier socializing the old-school way– in person and/or one-on-one.
In my experience, it’s seems more and more like social media is a thing for consumption. I think that’s why it can be addictive. The “hit” of self-esteem we get from a quick, positive engagement from an avatar initially feels personal, like the person behind the avatar actually gave you a compliment, but after a while, it’s just something to chase.
I wish I could ask people to join me in an experiment, where we put down our social media paraphernalia and actually start behaving in the world like social creatures. Engage people you’re attracted to with an outstretched hand of vulnerability and courage. Call your loved-ones, or at least send a voice message if you’ve lost the ability to talk on the phone, like me. Go to lectures, open houses, and seminars, with the desire to be a part of the social event. Host dinners or game nights with friends, write letters to the ones who live far away. Think of unique and interesting ways to be involved in other peoples’ lives, and for others to be involved in yours.
I am literally just epiphanying upon all of this, after years of “collecting” friends and followers, crafting my avatar, and perfecting my showroom profiles. Still, even though I’m aware of the vanity and absurd irony of it all, still, I find myself tempted to tell whoever’s reading this blog– the day I release it or five years from now– the number of friends and followers I had, and the number of platforms I was on, etc. Absurd.
Anyway, the good news is that interdependency is a good thing. And I’m so excited and grateful to be practicing it in the real world these days. It’s slow-going, but– like I said at the top of the page– it really does feel like I’m back to my true self. God damn, I mean, when was the last time I wrote letters to my friends?? I’m writing letters again, guys! And giving gifts to people, for no reason at all! It’s fresh air, boy’tellya.
Okie dokie, it is now time for some lunch. Oh! And if any Iowa Citians happens to be reading this today (Saturday, Jan 26th), come to Public Space One tonight from 6-8 for their 16th birthday art auction finale! And later above Deadwood there will be an after-party dance party! Fuck the weather!
Last thing: I’d love to hear your thoughts and opinions on social media and this blog post. Please send me an email or write a reply if you want. xo