Both of these blog posts, written by people on opposite ends of the planet, grabbed me by the heart and guts.
Me, I’ve become totally overwhelmed by other people’s status updates. An article in this magazine on the subject a few months ago, prompting a wave of “me too!” feedback. My journalist friend C has since taken a Twitter hiatus. “I can’t deal with the spin. It feels so grubby.” My single friend G has turned off Facebook; “Too many ex-boyfriends with baby photos!”.
Meanwhile, over in San Francisco, Mills Baker writes about the differences between how we behave in public and how we behave in private, both online and off:
You sit through another meeting, another class, another dinner party. What passes between the participants is performance; these are not fora for honesty, after all; nowhere public and social truly is, as you learned when just a child. You are obliged to redact, censor, restrain your strange human urge to complete honesty –an urge we may take as a solitary sign of innate moral goodness or as a mark of laziness: it is so hard to lie, to feign approval, to conjure phony responses to inanities! You are not yourself; you enact a role. You are coworker, guest, polite chit-chatter, neutral diplomat.
Yes. Yes yes yes yes yes, I thought to myself as I read their posts. Like Sarah and her friends, social media sometimes leaves me feeling grubby. Sometimes, my reasons are neurotic and ninth-gradish (although I suspect a lot of us do it): “Those two people who know me hung out together and I wasn’t invited. Do they secretly hate me?” Or, “All these people are so much better than I am. I’d really better up my game.”
Sometimes the grubbiness runs deeper. A sense that what some people are saying, at least, is all bullshit; jostling; self-aggrandising. A product of a hope on their part that if you say something often enough, it will become true.
Part of the problem is what Mills touches upon in his post: the fact that social media is a public space. A more public space than the places we used to think of as public spaces, even. When it comes to social media, almost everything happens “on stage”. Even something like Facebook, which drew its initial appeal from the promise that it was a walled online garden where we could freely be ourselves, has long since become anything but that.
If I’m angry or sad, I’m less likely to talk about it on Facebook than I am in person (where I’ll usually tell anyone who will listen, assuming the emotion is strong enough), because I don’t want people to think I’m throwing a pity party. I hold back on things that could be construed as exciting or glamorous, because I don’t want people to think I’m bragging (which means that when it comes to the “humble brag”, I am guilty before charge). I don’t even share certain posts from this blog because I don’t want to draw the wrong people’s attention to them.
Really though, I think this gap between public presentation and private behaviour smarts most when you’ve seen backstage before. It’s why we have a tendency to grow disgusted with our exes after breakups: because we go from seeing the beautiful, vulnerable mess inside to seeing the artifice only. And while the Gaga-esque pyrotechnics may have been tolerable when you had a backstage pass to even it out, without them they seem insubstantial, superficial, a bit of a lie.
“That is not who that person really is!” I have always wanted to shout in such situations. “That is fake!”
But the truth is, if you haven’t had the privilege of seeing backstage, that artifice? It isn’t so annoying. Not because the facts of it are any different - not even because, necessarily, you’re buying what your vaguest of online or offline acquaintances are selling - but because you’re just not that invested.
There is, of course, a difference between being positive - looking on the bright side, appreciating what you have - and posturing/social climbing/outright lying in the hopes that through creating a prettier public face you’ll fill some indefinable hole inside. Primarily? It’s about having humility. But like Sarah, I think there’s also something to be said for sharing the dark alongside the light.
Elsewhere: Is it time to stop the Twitter sycophantic-a and get real? (Sarah Wilson)
Gossip, Negativity, Friendship (Mills Baker)