I’m Taking The Goldfish

Socially Sober: The Good, The Bad And The Selfie

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about a certain scene in ‘Jerry Maguire’. Not the “you had me at hello” scene, or even the “SHOW ME THE MONEY!” one. No, this scene happens just after that… it’s the, “Who’s coming with me” moment.

You remember this: Jerry Maguire (played by Tom Cruise at his most handsome) has just been fired for suggesting his sports agency take on less clients, and make less money. After frantically calling his sports stars, Jerry leaves his office, takes the goldfish and implores his colleagues to leave with him.

“If anybody else wants to come with me, this moment will be the moment of something real, and fun and inspiring in this god-forsaken business, and we will do it together. Who’s coming with me? Who’s coming with me? Who’s coming with me besides Flipper, here?”

I’ve been thinking about that scene in particular, because I feel somewhat the same about my business. I have a strong urge to try to hold on to authenticity in this world of superficiality, and nowhere is this plainer to me than on social media. It’s the things I think and do not say.

Let me explain. Like a 5 year-old kid banished to a corner for being annoying, I’ve always asked, “but WHY?” about most things. I get a question in my head, I can’t let it go, and then I dive into research to try to find the answer. Why aren’t more people talking about women in film became my TEDx Talk. Why Star Wars became a podcast. And why don’t we just do it ourselves became the shows Girls On Film and Indies Are My Jam.

Now, I’m wondering about social media. Why are we all on it? What is it doing for us and what is it doing to us?

As I sit in this café, I look around and I can see that approximately 80% of people are on their phones. I’m scribbling this in a notebook I purchased hastily on my walk over, in an effort not to look at my phone for once. But it’s hard. Why is it so hard? The cover of this notebook has a picture of a cat, with a thought bubble saying, “You’ve gotta be kitten me!” I hear you, little cat.

Remember when you used to just wait for your coffee and think? Stare into the middle distance and let your mind wander? Now, I fill my empty spaces with mini moments from other people’s lives. When I wake up. Before I go to bed. When a red light happens. When my computer takes too long to load a webpage. Sometimes I’ll lose an hour or more, with my head down and my thumb scrolling through the highlight reels (as Roth Cornet calls it) of friends, family, celebrities and strangers. Occasionally, I’ll learn a friend has had her baby, or see a photo of my sisters in Australia. But often, it feels pretty meaningless.

In my industry, social media is a huge focus. At meetings, potential employers ask me how many Twitter followers I have. There’s the constant pressure to promote yourself, document all you’re doing, and create a ‘brand’ as if you’re a product. Your numbers are compared with others, like quantity somehow means you are quality. There’s the thinking that more followers will bring financial freedom, more work or personal satisfaction. Maybe it would. But it’s never enough. You can always get more. And someone else always has more. It’s a bit icky.

Because I already have a pretty shaky self-esteem, I also get completely sucked into the comparison of lives these apps encourage. I mean, I know I’m looking at a perfectly filtered version of someone’s #SundayFunday… but still, I can’t help feeling bad that I’m not a smiling, thin, blonde model who does yoga and sips smoothies in bikinis. Namaste. This, I know, is part of a larger personal problem not entirely related to social media, but social media certainly doesn’t help. And it goes both ways; mid 2014 — mid 2015 was one of the hardest years of my personal life, but you’d never know it to look at my Instagram.

About a month ago, I was telling my friends quite gleefully that I was going to quit it ALL. Sparked by several books I’d been reading about social media (‘The Shallows’, ‘The End of Absence’, ‘So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed’) I would tell them with wild eyes that 2016 was going to be my “year of no social media”. I would write about it, it would be my project, and I would see if you could still be successful in my industry without social media. Their reactions ranged from “You’re INSANE” to “Do it! I mean, I wouldn’t, but you should!” and everything in between. My stubborn streak did not like when people told me that I had no choice, that I needed it to get work as a freelancer… dammit, I was determined to show everyone there was another way! Hello from my high horse!

These were all bold statements from me, someone who always has her phone within reach. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Vine, Periscope… you name it, I’m on it. For me though, it’s less about the follower numbers, and more about a desire to connect with fellow film fans, to chat with them, give recommendations and answer their questions. I had nobody to talk nerdy with when I was younger, so now I can’t get enough. And that is an addiction in itself. I can’t tell you how happy it makes me for a brief moment when the notifications number pops up. See? I matter! Take that, high school Alicia!

But I just couldn’t shake the feeling that there might be a better way to communicate, and wondered how much of real Alicia Malone was in @AliciaMalone.

My film tribe (I can’t quite bring myself to call them ‘followers’ or ‘fans’) was the only thing I felt bad about as I spoke about quitting. The one thing I didn’t want to do was abandon all these people who had been so good to me. There are people on there who I’ve come to think of as friends, always on hand with a lovely word on Twitter and a nice email off. This was all made even more obvious when my TEDx Talk was released.

That speech is something I am genuinely proud of, and I was nervous to have it out in the world. I posted the video on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, and… the response was incredible. This wasn’t about getting likes; this was about connecting with people over an important issue. Seeing how many people had my back, how many were saying, “Yes! Let’s keep talking about this!” made me a different sort of happy and satisfied. There’s no denying social media is a good way to spread conversations and start the tide for change.

So, I decided, before I take the goldfish, I need to do some research. I want to delve into the world of social media — the good, the bad, and the selfie. And this is where you come in. I want to emphasize the ‘social’ on this social media platform, and instead of just reading and scrolling, I want to know your opinion.

Do you love or loath social media? Instead of simply quitting, is there a more ethical, meaningful and authentic way to use these platforms? Is there, perhaps, a set of rules to follow, to curb addiction and help self-esteem? Do we all need to go Socially Sober?

(And before you write these comments, yes, I understand these are first-world issues, and yes, I absolutely do get the irony of pondering social media on a form of social media. It’s totes meta…)

This week, I’m starting a newsletter as one trial of a more targeted, direct way to talk to my ‘tribe’. People can opt-in if they’re interested in keeping up with all the things I do, and if they’re not, they won’t have to be bombarded with it on social media.

But all of this feels like the writing spark I have been waiting for, something to get my creative juices flowing, for my ‘but WHY’ child inside to sink my teeth into. I could do interviews with experts and celebrities, go out into the real world to try different things (is there a support group for social media addiction?) and do research on a whole range of topics — from twitter wars to hashtag activism, connection with people to disconnection with real life, using it as a news source to using it as a self-promotion tool. At the end of it all, I may decide it’s best to quit, or, I may see social media in a completely different way. But in any case, I’ll hopefully have some tips and tricks that everyone can use.