Posts about social media


On Being an Author Without Social Media

Good afternoon, internet travelers.

Today’s post is a quick note to acknowledge that I’ve left Twitter and I don’t plan to return. If you’ve been following me on Twitter, thanks! It’s been a pleasure to be connected to so many great people. As an alternative way of staying in touch, I encourage you to sign up for my newsletter or add my blog to your RSS reader of choice.

I hope I can disengage from social media without giving the wrong impression. You’re important to me, and I want to brighten your day by giving you something great to read. But I’d rather serve you by writing the next book than by spending time on social media. Being online like that distracts me and stresses me out, so I’m going to focus on other things moving forward.

That’s my news of the day. Don’t @ me! But you can email me if you have questions. I’ll be around. 😎

With that out of the way, it’s time for me to get back to work! I’m deep into edits on next Ellie Tappet novel, The Case of the Fond Farewell and I’m looking forward to sharing it with you. Take care, and I’ll be back in touch when there’s news to report.

Until next time,

C

My Problem with Influencers

In his long essay A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, author David Foster Wallace talked about the problem of ads pretending not to be ads.

An ad that pretends to be art is-at absolute best-like somebody who smiles at you only because he wants something from you. This is dishonest, but what’s insidious is the cumulative effect that such dishonesty has on us: since it offers a perfect simulacrum of goodwill without goodwill’s real substance, it messes with our heads and eventually starts upping our defenses even in cases of genuine smiles and real art and true goodwill. It makes us feel confused and lonely and impotent and angry and scared. it causes despair.

This passage still feels relevant even though Wallace wrote it in the nineties, long before the rise of social media. Perhaps that’s because the trend of ads-pretending-to-be-other-things has only sped up over the years. As a result, we’re living our lives alongside a bizarre set of social norms that I’ve come to think of as influencer culture. Influencer culture is most visible in the world of advertising, but it trickles into our politics, communities, and nearly all internet-mediated communication.

Influencer culture says:

  • Deceiving others is fine if it gets you more attention.
  • To succeed, pretend to be offering personal and unbiased recommendations, when in fact you’re getting paid for them.
  • It’s best to hide ads within thickets of “content” to obscure them, making them appear not to be ads.
  • Cultivate the illusion of friendship and camaraderie with your customers, for the purpose of earning a sale later.

Like Wallace said, these kinds of behaviors contribute to the lowering of trust and a kind of creeping despair about the world. Does that perky world traveler really like your photo on Instagram or is it their intern trying to create the illusion of admiration? When a self-help author calls you sweetie in a comment, are they expressing familial affection to a total stranger, or are they speaking in language aligned with their carefully branded persona? Oh, and last week when you read that darkly sardonic article on the web, did the author truly mean what she said, and did she believe her words were fair, or did she slant the message to be more controversial because controversial gains 20% more clicks?

We’re surrounded by soft lies, and every time we notice someone’s duped us, we can only become less willing to trust. This is, I suspect, how we’ve arrived at this current moment, in which the overarching headline might be: Everything is Garbage, but No One Cares, so Nothing Will Be Fixed, Ever.

But even if you hate influencer culture it’s difficult to escape it, especially if your livelihood requires selling. A friend of mine recently hired a social media strategist for her business, and they told her to hire an intern to go online and like people for her so people will like her back. Come on! Is this the world we want? My genuine, talented, friend is being told to farm out fake likes so she can have a career. And the worst part? For all I know, the consultant might be right!

I guess my problem with influencers isn’t that they’re trying to sell me something.  I’m a fan of capitalism, not to mention living in a world where valuable products and services improve my life. My problem with influencers is that they seem emblematic of a shift in our culture, one that says we can only thrive by exploiting and deceiving one another. This mindset encourages lies at scale, something that’s corrosive to our society and our emotional well-being as individuals. If I’ve gotta walk through the world with my skepticism turned on high, all the freaking time, sure, that’s gonna hurt.

Wallace saw the rise of cynicism and detached irony in American culture and suggested that we needed a new sincerity combat it. I like that idea! At a basic level, sincerity might be as simple as: Say what you mean, and mean what you say. I’d argue that a sincere marketer wouldn’t be ashamed to share an advertisement, but they wouldn’t deceive their audience either. A sincere publisher wouldn’t put a fake-controversial title on an article to get clicks, right? And a sincere customer would respond to any obvious deception with a frown and a remark that “This isn’t cool, and I’ll do my business elsewhere if that’s how you’re going to treat me.” That all seems pretty reasonable to me.

At the risk of sounding corny, I suggest we combat the evils of influencer culture by choosing to be sincere in our dealings with one another, and by (sincerely) sharing our disappointment when others try to deceive or manipulate us.

Sincerity likely won’t fix all of society’s problems, but it seems as good a place as any to begin. You be straight with me, and I’ll be straight with you. Let’s start there, and see where it takes us.

Note: This blog post was influenced by the following sources:

A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again by David Foster Wallace
E. Unibus Pluram: Television & US Fiction by David Foster Wallace
The Massively Popular Construction Guy Influencer Account Was Actually Created by an Ad Agency to Sell Coffee by Buzzfeed News
Fake News is an Oracle by Corey Doctorow
The Problem with Irony (video) by Will Shoder

Eight months without Facebook

Eight months ago, I deactivated my Facebook, Instagram, and Whatsapp accounts. Four months ago, I deleted those accounts entirely. And now that I’m outside the Facebook bubble, I wanted to describe what that’s been like, for anyone curious about the other side.

Let’s start with a quick summary of the main points, and I’ll elaborate on a few things below.

  1. I quit because social media was stressing me out. I hated the way I kept compulsively checking it, and I was concerned about the Facebook company’s use of my personal data.
  2. Quitting gave me twitchy fingers. I felt like an ex-smoker reaching for the pack of cigarettes that were no longer there. And I felt guilty about inconveniencing my friends and family.
  3. I felt disconnected and lonely for a while after quitting. But as I’ve been more proactive with my friends (and they’ve returned the favor) my quality of life has gone up.
  4. Some relationships have faded away. Mostly those were acquaintances, or “friends” that I rarely saw in real life. I’ve come to see this as an acceptable trade-off.

Eight Months Without Facebook

Do you know what the best part of being off Facebook is? I thought it would be having more privacy, or feeling less addicted to checking social media, but what I love most is something else entirely. Now that I’m off Facebook, when I’m with my friends, I’m actually with my friends.

Have you ever had conversations like this one?

I see you went to Aruba, Bob.

Yes, it was a nice vacation. How are the kids? It looks like Billy is playing soccer this year?

He is. Thanks for asking.

(awkward silence)

Want some punch?

I don’t miss that bullshit! When we allow sites like Facebook to do the heavy lifting in our relationships, it seems that we turn into cardboard cutouts, even when hanging out in person.  I always hated that dynamic, and now it’s over.

Being off Facebook has also eliminated the accidental irritations that occur from oversharing. Have you ever had thoughts like these?

I hate (that politician) too, but do you have to rant about it every day?
Yup. Your children/pets are cute. I get it.
Thank you for the fifth workout photo this week. Yes, we all know you’re swole.
Why wasn’t I invited to that party?

When I spent a lot of time on sites like FB and Insta, I developed the habit of stereotyping people based on what they shared. I’d unconsciously tell myself that so-and-so is all about being a parent, and my other friend is super career-minded, and yet another friend is a world traveler. Our digital projections can become so strong that we don’t really see our friends (in all their complexity) any longer. And when that happens, it seems difficult to get beneath the surface.

I believe relationships take time. Conversations. Support. An investment in one another. And in that regard, getting off Facebook acted as a sorting mechanism. I found the answer to: Who will make time to hang out? For me that’s a small group but a treasured one. And sure, it can feel lonely while you look for your people in the flesh-and-blood world. But it gets easier the more you invest in your relationships.

Text people. Set up a coffee date. Schedule a movie night, or a game day, or happy hour. Join a book club. Get your ass out there. I’ve gotten pretty introverted these last few years, so it takes effort, but in the end, it’s worth it.

Thoughts about the Digital Future

Slowly, I’ve been backing away from the technologies that make me uneasy. In the past, I had a bias that said “if it’s a new technology, it must be good!” and I jumped in with both feet, eager to explore. But these days, I believe technology isn’t good or bad, any more than a hammer is good or bad. Better to ask yourself what you’re building with it. Are you making something beneficial, or harmful?

Modern as I am, I think the Amish have this figured out. They ask themselves what impact technology will have on their lives, families, and community, and only if they agree that it is beneficial will they adopt it. Naturally, I draw my lines in the sand very differently than they do (huzzah for electricity and my dishwasher!) but I admire their efforts to protect their way of life.

What “way of life” do I want to have? And how can I protect it? Those are questions I keep coming back to.

I’ll close this post with a few things I’ve learned since leaving Facebook.

  1. Making something easier doesn’t always make it better. (Human connection is one example.)
  2. Before using a technology, I want to consider the secondary consequences.
  3. It’s okay to opt-out!
  4. It’s okay to say “not yet!”
  5. Friends don’t disappear because you’re not on a website. Acquaintances might, and that’s okay.

I don’t believe quitting Facebook will “make you happy,” but if being there makes you feel unhappy, leaving might encourage you to connect with people at a deeper level. But doing so does take effort, and it’s lonely at first, and not everyone on your friend list will make time to connect in the flesh-and-blood world.

For Facebook skeptics like me, it’s important to remember that being against Facebook isn’t particularly interesting once you’ve extracted yourself. It’s more fun to be for things, and to bring more of what you value into your life. For me that includes:

More writing.
More walks.
More movies with friends.
More writing/books.
More coffee.
More conversation.
More philosophy.

Now, having banished some “unwanted tech” from my life, it’s time for me to take the final step and banish it from my mind too. I’m not here to tell you you should quit Facebook. But if being there is making you stressed and unhappy, I can confirm that life is pretty great on the other side of deactivation.