58 posts tagged tech
I’ve got a story in UK Cosmopolitan this month, a reprint of an article I wrote last year for the Australian edition.
Not the first time one of my stories has been syndicated, but the first time one has been syndicated to a country where I can actually purchase the magazine. So yay.
Page 95, ‘The Rise of the iNarcissist.’ Here’s a taster:
The problem goes to the root of the way our brains are wired, says Dr Larry Rosen, author of iDisorder: Understanding Our Obsession With Technology and Overcoming Its Hold On Us. Those Facebook “likes”, blog comments, and Twitter follows? All give us a shot of a little chemical named dopamine, which is associated with happiness.
“I love the rush when someone ‘likes’ a status or a photo,” says Ruby, 22. Amelia, 30, describes a “feeling of success” whenever someone responds to her on social media.
But the net can also make us anxious. What if no one comments on your blog post, or your Twitter crew all go out for drinks without you, or the girl you worked with after school in year 10 deletes you on Facebook? “Narcissism is an interesting combination of pleasure and anxiety,” says Rosen. “You get pleasure, obviously, out of people responding to you or telling you how great you are, but there’s also a lot of anxiety that they won’t respond, or that they’ll respond differently from how you might like.”
The internet allows us to control the way the rest of the world sees us like never before: you can be a model, an up-and-coming author, or a celebrity fashionista with a few strategically angled photographs and a well-written Twitter bio. But the ability to control our image comes with a price of increased self-consciousness. We don’t just play at being “celebrities” on the internet; our lifestyles increasingly resemble theirs, whether we like it or not, as anyone who has ever been tagged in an unflattering Facebook photo can vouch.
iNarcissism is not the same thing as Narcissistic Personality Disorder, the term psychologists use to describe people who have a pathological self-preoccupation. Where a person with NPD will manipulate others for affection, lie about their achievements, and lash out at those who don’t support their inflated self-image, a garden variety iNarcissist will upload a few too many photos of themselves, keep you abreast of their every thought and movement, and overuse the “like” button on Facebook and Twitter in order to attract your attention, says Rosen. Annoying, sure, but not exactly the kind of person you’d cross the street to avoid…
Lonely for new friends, this new Londoner set up a Tumblr and posted an advertisement to Facebook, which then showed up on my page when I logged on this afternoon.
This month in Australian Cosmopolitan, I’m talking secret men’s social networking clubs. It’s only on newsstands for another week, so make sure you pick it up quick if you want to read it. Will have two stories in the next issue as well, but more on that later…
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)
This post didn’t do so well here on Tumblr, but it did launch off my occasional guest posting relationship with Meanjin, and it won me a prize at a blog slamming night in London later in the year, so I’m including it as my selection for June. Plus, I like it. And for those in the know, it was rather precipitous of the emotional events of the months to follow.
"Do you know that song Telephone, by Lady Gaga?" I find myself asking over and over again, lately.
"Of course you do - it’s the biggest pop song of the year. Well, that’s how I feel at the moment."
Except for all the drinking and dancing.
Stop calling, stop calling,
I don’t wanna think anymore!
I left my head and my heart on the dance floor.
Stop calling, stop calling,
I don’t wanna talk anymore!
I left my head and my heart on the dance floor.
Perhaps it’s because I just finished reading Kate Crawford’s meditation on noise and technology in the latest issue of Meanjin, but it’s only this week that it occurred to me that perhaps the way I’ve always interpreted this song (“stop freaking calling me! I need some space to think/breathe!”) is the way Gaga actually intended. That as much as ‘Telephone’ is about a) an assertion of independence, b) partying, c) nothing at all - just the joy of a good beat and melody - so too is it a song about d) the inescapable intrusion of modern technology.
I shoulda left my phone at home,
'cause this is a disaster!
Callin’ like a collector -
sorry, I cannot answer!
In her Meanjin essay, Crawford traces various historical movements to limit noise: against horsedrawn carriages, the din of conversation travelling through too-thin walls, the radio and the mobile phone. (I’m probably amongst the youngest of those to remember when owning one was tantamount to declaring oneself a wanker, something which only changed around 2000 or so.) She writes:
In the early twenty-first century, there is a new kind of noise problem: networked conversation. This is not the street noise that floats into open windows, but it finds us nonetheless: via text messages, Twitter, Facebook and emails. It does not cease.
In ‘Telephone’, Gaga and Beyonce make a similar claim:
Not that I don’t like you,
I’m just at a party.
And I am sick and tired
of my phone r-ringing.
Sometimes I feel like
I live in Grand Central Station.
Tonight I’m not taking no calls…
This post feels very First Year Media Studies, but I don’t think the leap I’m making here is that large. The key to Gaga’s success, after all, is her ability to tap into the zeitgeist, and I do detect a grimace on her face when she sings “stop calling, stop calling, I don’t want to talk anymore” in the final choruses after she and Beyonce committ mass homicide.
Like Crawford, I’m no luddite, and I don’t believe that switching off altogether is the answer. I love my internets dearly, and I will happily talk to anyone who will listen about how my iPhone revolutionised my life. (The major difference? Lack of a need for forward planning due to constant access to Facebook, email, text and GPS.) When Crawford described her tinny mobile phone ‘alarm clock’, I hummed the familiar tune to myself, and I’d probably be very sad indeed if everyone stopped “telephonin’ me”.
But damn if I don’t relate to Gaga sometimes.