As I scroll down the latest tweets in my Twitter feed, I have the uncanny sense I’ve been transported back in time about twenty years. I laugh at clever posts and file away useful links, but I rarely post things. I’m too often paralyzed by the need to be pithy and clever in 140 characters or less.
I’m on Twitter mostly because, as an aspiring author, I’m told it’s useful to have some kind of online presence. And I have to admit there are perks: interesting links, insights into the minds of some of my favorite authors, and–best of all–interaction with some of those same authors. When Dianne Salerni responded to my review of her latest book, The Caged Graves (a lovely young adult historical novel), I rode that high the rest of the day. But then I find myself reading exchanges between published authors and other people I really admire, and it’s hard to escape feeling I’m back in high school, watching the action from the fringes because I’m not quite cool enough, or clever enough, or whatever enough. So instead I observe, trying to figure out what’s cool, what’s not, and–most paralyzing of all, for me–what version of myself is most acceptable in this forum.
This social insecurity is a lowering sensation–something I’d hoped to leave behind with my teenage acne. (Which, even more depressingly, I *still* haven’t left behind. Maybe that’s part of the reason the insecurity persists.) And it’s not something that’s entirely confined to Twitter, although I do feel more sure of myself on Facebook, if only because the majority of my “friends” are people I know in real life. And I can’t really speak to other social media sites–I have LinkedIn and Pinterest accounts, but I haven’t used them in so long that I no longer remember my user name or my password.
Part of the anxiety, I think, is built into the nature of social media. Because these sites are social, because they rely on interactive networks, they’re often an exercise in ethos–the character we create for public consumption. For people with larger than life personalities or a vivid writing voice, this is great. For people like me, an introvert who’s still not entirely sure *who* she is, interacting on social media can sometimes feel like an existential crisis. Or a return to high school.
I don’t mean this post to be an invitation to bash on social media, because I think social media can accomplish great and powerful things. Witness the role of social media in the Arab Spring, or the Church’s efforts to use social media in missionary work. In fact, the Church Handbook 2 states:
Members are encouraged to be examples of their faith at all times and in all places, including on the Internet. If they use blogs, social networks, and other Internet technologies, they are encouraged to strengthen others and help them become aware of that which is useful, good, and praiseworthy.
Clearly, when used thoughtfully, there’s a role for social media.
But I’m not entirely sure I get it. Maybe I’m just admitting to being a social media Luddite. But I don’t think I’m alone in experiencing social anxiety. Most social networks seem to come with their own built-in insecurity: studies show that increased Facebook use is tied to a decreased sense of well-being, and Instagram might be even worse. “Pinterest stress” apparently affects nearly half of all moms. And NYMag classified six social-media specific anxieties.
What I really want to know is: what has your experience with social media been like? Do you love it? Loathe it? Alternately, are there social media sites you’re drawn to more than others? Why?