Artist & Writer, San Francisco Bay Area

Me, The Usual Suspect

On Social Media & Living a Normal Life: Part 3—

There’s plenty of evidence to support the idea that what’s making social media so hard for me is not social media, but me. So maybe I am neurotic, and maybe at the same time I desperately don’t want anyone to notice that neurosis. And maybe posting on social media makes it so I’m constantly having to face that and a host of other truths about my shortcomings. I want to be authentic, but I also don’t want to be an idiot. Or at the very least… I don’t want anyone to think I’m an idiot. You know, I read Elif Batuman’s The Idiot last year, and I identified with that main character as late-teen-me soooo much. Maybe the truth is, I just don’t want people to find out what I am.

Putting myself online… so much publishing of one’s self, so much constructing of identity when I’m supposed to just be myself. They say that’s all it takes, right? It takes a whole lot of work to constantly present myself on social media. That’s one of the reasons I don’t do it so much anymore. I’ve run out of energy and time. I do, however, feel more comfortable here on my blog. I can arrange as many words and pictures and links as I want, and it’s nestled into the context that I arranged myself, so it’s a happier place for me, a long-form kind of status update I suppose.

After those early adult years trying not to look like I was trying super hard in social gatherings, there are now a lot of gatherings I can manage rather comfortably. If I’m in a quiet mood but among familiar people, I can show up and just “be” there without having to say anything. I can be relaxed and just enjoying the ambiance, the food, staying open to the natural ebbs and flows in conversation.

I enjoy being with other people the most when I forget about myself. But online, I have to consciously regenerate the “me” that I put there. I’m forced to constantly see myself interact with people, seeing a reflection of myself in images and text I put on the screen in front of me. I like who I am, by the way. I like the way I am, and I have no interest in portraying something I’m not, but what does it mean to be myself when being myself on social media is an active self-conscious construction, where I can’t just “be”? How can I be authentic and consistent and keep multiple conversations going (from the inane to the heartbreaking), just being myself in this digital place that is not a physical place?

On most platforms, our cleverness and stupidity aren’t restricted to just a couple people; instead, social media has all the interactions on loudspeaker, putting them on the record in perpetuity, available for all mutual friends to see unless we specifically set it up differently. And I’m supposed to be able to manage this? I can’t help but get exhausted over all the considerations of all the possible people who might see an exchange between myself and another person. I know. I’m an idiot.

And yet…

It’s becoming more and more obvious (because data mining! because notable people’s anecdotal observations! because foreign interference in our elections!) that maybe there’s more to this than just my neurosis and idiocy. Maybe the reason it’s so hard for me is because I’m sensitive to its interpersonal and sociological effects, and I’m being honest about the toll this social media experience takes. I didn’t feel this way at first. But I do now.

And it’s not all in my head.

“It pains me as a journalist, and someone who once believed that a worldwide communications medium would herald more tolerance, to admit this — to say that my first instinct was to turn it all off. But it has become clear to me with every incident that the greatest experiment in human interaction in the history of the world continues to fail in ever more dangerous ways. In short: Stop the Facebook/YouTube/Twitter world — we want to get off.”
– Kara Swisher in “Sri Lanka Shut Down Social Media. My First Thought Was ‘Good.’” 4/22/19 NYT, editor at large for the technology news website Recode

(Click to link to “The Privacy Project,” The New York Times)

Series: On Social Media & Living a Normal Life

First was: “Part One: Oh, the Places We Post!”
Then: “Part Two: What’s On the Line”
This one is: “Part Three: Me, The Usual Suspect”
Next is: “Part Four: The Unusual Suspects”
And lastly: “Part Five: Just Post It”

~ Maritza Ruiz-Kim

Links for this series (*newly added)

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