Musings of an Inappropriate Woman

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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…

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…

,The presentation of the self on the everyday internet

Both of these blog posts, written by people on opposite ends of the planet, grabbed me by the heart and guts.

In Sydney, Sarah Wilson writes about internet bragging Friday Night Alone Reading Status Updates-ophobia:

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.

Related: My name is Rachel, and I’m a workaholic. And I think the internet may have something to do with it.
Magic magic: you are not your wardrobe.
How to be fabulous in three easy(ish) steps.

Elsewhere: Is it time to stop the Twitter sycophantic-a and get real? (Sarah Wilson)
Gossip, Negativity, Friendship (Mills Baker)

Best of 2010: Lady Gaga, ‘Telephone’ and 21st century ‘noise’

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.

Related: My name is Rachel, and I’m a workaholic.
Lady Gaga: Gen Y sex icon?
On Facebook and friendship

Best of 2010: My name’s Rachel, and I’m a workaholic. And I think the internet may have something to do with it.

As this post would suggest, the first six months of this year were an incredibly fast-paced, whirlwind of a time for me. Not because I was producing anything particularly important, but because I was working four days a week, conference hopping around the globe for my thesis, and preparing to move overseas. Ironically, the fact that I didn’t have time to write the things I wanted to only made things worse, serving as a constant reminder that I wasn’t doing or being all I wanted to be. Eight months on, I still have the occasional freakout, but it’s made better by the knowledge that what I do or don’t “produce”, writing-wise, is in my own hands.

Since around the time I turned 20, I’ve worked what most people would consider to be … a lot. I don’t think I’ll ever be the kind of person to hold down a regular job, switch off and relax at the end of the day. But the internet might just be the medium to push me over the edge into bona fide workaholism.

It serves as a constant reminder of all the things I could be doing and thinking about. The stimulus flies thick and fast, so that every day I come up with more ideas than I could ever have time to pursue. It also reminds me of all the things everybody else is doing, which often ends up equating to the things I begin to think I should be doing.

Net culture’s emphasis on ”ubiquity” (be everywhere at once! make it shareable! ship!) plays into it as well. People tell me I’m “so prolific”, but I don’t think it would be physically possible for me to produce at the relentless pace of online media sometimes seems to demand. Especially not while maintaining an offline life, career and projects as well (although that seems to be part of the aforementioned ubiquity).

I know I’m not alone in these anxieties. I see it in the posts of Erica Bartle of Girl With A Satchel, when she talks about juggling the demands of her very popular blog with the demands of paying her bills, and Sarah Ayoub of Wordsmith Lane, when she talks about trying to prioritise her YA novel (due in two months), thesis, job and freelancing gigs. “Get the novel done!” I tell Sarah. “All the rest is small change in the scheme of things.”

But I know it’s not that simple. On a practical level, I find that narrowing my focus to the work I think will have the greatest impact (in my case, thesis/book proposal and this blog) helps me manage and prioritise my load. On an emotional level, though, there’s a constant sense of “oh shit, I should be doing something that instead. And that. And that. And that.”

Nor is it all “woe is me” misery. Workaholics don’t chain themselves to their laptops because they hate themselves (well, not always, anyway). They do it because, for them, it’s pleasurable, and the internet doesn’t just exacerbate anxieties about work - it also enhances its pleasures. 

My own moods are probably overly influenced by external stimuli - small victories and new possibilities excite me - and every pitch accepted, story published, interesting invitation or well-received blog post has always given me a little high. The internet creates an additional means to access these highs - one which is always available, but impossible ever to fully satisfy. There’s always new stimulus, new inspiration, new things I could or should be doing.

This state doesn’t just apply to work either, as the non-workaholics reading will know well. Last year, when I posted a status update on Facebook asking if anyone else felt crap and inadequate after reading a series of Tweets or status updates, I got upwards of 30 replies.

This constant stream of information invites comparison amongst the externally stimulated and insecure, whether it’s “hey, that person who’s not my best friend likes that other person who’s not my best friend more than they like me” or “why did I stay home on Friday to read journal articles and watch 30 Rock when all those other people were out having fun?”

When I mentioned that I’d be writing a post on this issue to Erica last week, she suggested I take a look at this one, titled ‘Insecurity does not pay the bills’. Indeed. Nor does it provide value to others, or help you get your most important work done. Or help you enjoy your greatest pleasures, for that matter.

One way to beat the anxiety is to be confident in our own choices. I may wish I was doing more work (like I said, workaholic), but I’m also pretty secure that the work I do choose to focus on is the more important and effective for the ends I’m seeking. I’m also secure in my ability to choose which people I want to spend time with, which events look like they’ll be the most fun, what time I want to get there and what time I want to go home.

It also doesn’t hurt to switch off from time to time - to put a break on all that delicious information and inspiration. Just because it’s there to know, respond to, and do, doesn’t mean you have to know, respond and do it all. If you’re overstimulated (I know I have been lately!) put a limit on the stimulus you allow yourself to access.

Is anyone else feeling the pressure to produce? Or just generally inadequate in comparison to the collective weight of other people’s lives? If so, how do you deal with it?

Related: The internet means never having to be by your lonesome
Why you shouldn’t feel guilty for staying home on a Saturday night
Staying in is the new going out