Friday, August 23, 2013

Social Media Butterfly

'Know thyself' was inscribed in the pronaos (forecourt) of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. Apparently, several philosophers have tried to define precisely what that means, today, here's my take: Know thyself in all aspects - good, bad. Strengths and weaknesses. No over estimating. No under estimating. Foibles, quirks, everything. Presumably, by knowing all of these things, you are then armored. It becomes harder for your weaknesses and foibles to subsequently be used against you. In ancient Greece, where capricious gods were thought to affect everyday life, that sort of armor was vital.

I suggest it still is. Perhaps not because of capricious gods, though, to each his or her own, you know? No, my thought is that it's best to go armored to some extent against social media. Why? Because social media presents a false front. A fa├žade. One that can depress the crap out of you. From CBS: "A new study shows that Facebook may help people feel connected, but it doesn’t make them any happier. In fact, according to the research, which was conducted by the University of Michigan, Facebook use actually predicts a decline in a person’s well-being."

From a Slate article titled "The Antisocial Network": ""Misery Has More Company Than People Think," a paper in the January issue of Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, draws on a series of studies examining how college students evaluate moods, both their own and those of their peers. Led by Alex Jordan, who at the time was a Ph.D. student in Stanford's psychology department, the researchers found that their subjects consistently underestimated how dejected others were–and likely wound up feeling more dejected as a result. . .Jordan got the idea for the inquiry after observing his friends' reactions to Facebook: He noticed that they seemed to feel particularly crummy about themselves after logging onto the site and scrolling through others' attractive photos, accomplished bios, and chipper status updates. "They were convinced that everyone else was leading a perfect life.""

Note that these studies didn't differentiate between introverts and extroverts. Everyone felt worse. As a terminally geeky kid who grew into an equally geeky adult, I've always had this secret longing to belong - to be one of the cool kids. They had life SO much better. From the too loud laughter and fashionable clothes, it was obvious. And yet, even after achieving some level of belonging in groups that mattered to me (finding my tribe among writers, being published) I had other people looking at me like I was one of the cool kids, but I STILL look at Twitter posts from people I follow and I get that same lonely, stuck-on-the-outside-looking-in twinge. All because a few authors whose feeds I read present a chipper, clever, everything's always perfect front. They're doing more, being more. I end up feeling left in the dust. Granted there will always be something to aspire to - that's necessary if you're to have goals. But how healthy is it to allow something like tiny status updates on Facebook or Twitter or Tumblr or Pinterest to shape what you think you want to strive for?

This isn't to say that I advocate abandoning social media altogether. I don't. See last week's post on a similar subject. Absolutely engage in social media. Just be aware and remind yourself of a few things:
  • If it isn't fun, don't do it
  • Be aware that it's human nature to compare yourself to other people and that social media posts can never give you an accurate picture of another person.
  • Accept that social media posts do not represent reality - they're a Christmas card snapshot where everyone's had a little too much eggnog and they're all dressed in gaudy red and green sweaters while they grin manically in front of the tree. Sub in umbrella drinks and bikinis on the beach - whatever is guaranteed to poke your jealously and sense of inadequacy with a sharp stick.
  • Know thyself and then to thine own self be true (Polonius in Hamlet) - know your limits and stick to them. If an hour a day is all you can stand with social media, then by all means, give that hour your all. Then walk away, whistling and smiling. You've done good work.
  • Recognize the signs of addiction - I'm only half kidding - apparently, it's possible. Keep track of your word counts on your WIPs. Are they dropping? Are you checking social media while you're out with loved ones or friends? At the dinner table? Beware, social media butterfly. That way lies madness. Unplug the router. Put down the cellphone - better yet - give it to a really mean but beloved friend and step away from the never-ending status updates.
Is engaging in social media strictly necessary? Probably not. Plenty of books sell without it. However, most publishers ask authors to engage. So in the interests of being a team player, put up that Facebook page, start that Twitter account - or whatever it is that sounds like a good time. And then do whatever it takes to protect your mental and emotional wellbeing and above all your writing. If your anxiety levels about what you're achieving start rising, you may be comparing yourself unfavorably to all of the 'I wrote 20k words today!' posts.

Social media isn't an accurate representation of anyone. You are far more than any collection of 140 word tweets. Or sunny vacation FB photos. So is everyone else.

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