I’m taking a few seconds right now to consider how my social media habits have changed over this past year. Of course they’ve changed, because the discourse on pretty much all of the major social platforms has been changing. You can adapt, or not.
Basically, the way I’ve adapted is by steering clear of other people’s threads unless I can bring something unique to the table. And the way I need to continue adapting is by not simply taking my two cents to forums where I appear slightly more anonymous. An interesting thought deserves to find its proper place, and finding that place often takes time. If it’s actually an idea that deserves its proper place, the wait is worth it.
One practice I’m really glad I leaned into this year is: Whenever I feel compelled to post anything on any social platform, I ask myself whether it stands to reason that someone else who has better knowledge of the subject has already said the same thing, more articulately and authoritatively. Usually I’ll presume someone else has. Sometimes I’ll Google an entire phrase that pops into my head and find someone else said the same thing years ago. I’m just not here to post timeline white noise bs that makes me look dumb.
I’m especially wary about adding to the white noise because so many people I used to interact with heavily on Facebook and Twitter have been scarce on the socials in 2022.
Obviously 2020 was an inflection point on social media, when an increasingly unpleasant atmosphere and a general loudness in the timeline caused a lot of people to bounce. There’s been a massive brain drain in my feeds. Sure, some of the most media-literate people I know are still heavy posters. Depending on where they sit in the media landscape, those folks very well might need to post to maintain their public profiles. But overall, through 2022, the frequency with which I felt occasioned to comment on a post in my feed continued to drop, rapidly. I’m okay with it, in the end. Saves time.
But, y’know, as my therapist reminds me consistently, the human mind naturally seeks the status quo, even if it’s a bad status quo. In my case, I had less to post, and there were fewer posts from people I know personally that also felt appropriate for me to comment on. So my mind sought new vectors. I started posting way too much on Twitter, in part because so few people follow me over there that I could let off a lot of steam, frankly, without worrying about spending time on an actual conversation about it. And then I started commenting on posts from people I don’t know personally – sometimes to add a punchline, sometimes to comment on “what commenters here seem to be missing.” And then I actually went into the comments sections of various publications I follow. Just drive-by commenting – as with Twitter, it seemed okay to drop a thought into the comments section of an article with the understanding that no one would actually comment in turn on that thought, and my comment would be quickly buried by other people’s hot/lukewarm/cold takes. But it’s still a waste of time, y’know? In my case it’s challenging to stop wondering whether anyone has commented on my own takes, which means I don’t have the right temperament to comment.
The thing I’ve been doing instead of over-posting is, whenever I think I have a take, opening a Google doc and typing it out. Then it’ll just sit there to age for a few hours. Usually I find that a delay will reveal my takes to be poorly considered and not even entertaining. Sometimes I actually have a quality take that I can post. A lot of the time, I decide I have a kernel of an idea I can sock away until I can fold it into something else – a personal essay, a blog post, a story, a song lyric, whatever. Ultimately, it’s much more useful and helpful to stockpile those ideas in one unified place than to spray them across social media, which is largely disposable and ephemeral by design. A former editor of mine used to describe his coverage of the local music scene as “[his] Russian novel.” I’ve often called my social media channels my Russian novel. And I don’t love thinking about how much good copy I’ve just spilled out into the ether over the years. My former editor ended up spinning his local music scene experiences into a serialized work of fiction. That’s a good example to follow, I think. There’s an appropriate place for most compelling thoughts to go, and a lot of the time, that place isn’t social media, or at least not for me these days.
This post started out as a Facebook comment, but by the third paragraph, it became clear Facebook wasn’t the right place for it.
One of my projects right now is to recognize when the tendrils of my attention and focus are extending out into the comments sections of third-party posts and publishers’ content, and to remember to open a Google doc instead. I’m trying to establish a new status quo, one that’s more constructive than the old status quo, and that takes practice.
I’m perfectly aware that to some (read: a lot of) people, being on social media at all is inherently indulgent, a sign of a lack of discipline, irresponsible stuff. And I get it. I’m going to assume those people don’t have any reason to turn to their communities while pursuing their goals. If you’re involved in community efforts, though, or the arts, or anything at all that needs to be promoted, the socials are obviously potentially powerful tools that can help you spread a message or solve a problem in an extremely short period of time. I’m not in a comfortable enough position to walk away from all that. And as long as I’m there, I’ll be there as one of those people who kind of need to post consistently. Not everything you post to the socials can be a call to action. People will think you’re there only to ask for something, and they’ll tune you out. You need to also give people something they can appreciate purely on its own terms. Now, the challenge for me is that I don’t like telling my social networks what I’m actually doing, or the nuances of my personal relationships, or my self-doubts and apprehensions, or the things I’m proud of (the feedback I’ve gotten indicates that can easily look like bragging), or, nowadays, my thoughts on anything that can’t be better expressed by a more qualified person I already know. So I’m kind of down to jokes and non sequiturs and absurdism. But that’s okay. That all feels very 2022/23. In a word, people my age perfected first the art of oversharing on the internet, and second the art of atoning for oversharing. People younger than I have perfected the art of being on the internet all the time and connecting with other people without giving away anything personal. That’s where I need to go as long as I need to stay on the socials.
Wherever your digital habits go in 2023, I hope they give you something you can keep and use for yourself.