Social media: Tool, toy or actualizing extension of life? In three not entirely unrelated parts

Part 1

The height of my twitter use paralleled the height of my love of inside jokes and non sequiturs. Therefore, although I was constantly in conversation with the app and, technically, the app’s community, I was never really engaging with either. #LameRapBoasts never really got off the ground and neither, naturally, did a slew of disjointed half-thoughts, semi-coherent humor or possibly-deeply-held-but-ironically-voiced opinions. I wasn’t interested in gaining a following, I was interested in the ability to simultaneously be in my own head while also holding that same court in relative public. If someone wanted to read, that was fine, but I didn’t expect it, nor seek it out beyond taking the actions inherent in sending a tweet.

There’s definitely something to be said for shouting into this particular void. It’s a great way to express anxiety, test an idea (even as echo, with self as interlocutor) or disseminate nonsense. All, of course, without really any eye towards consequence. Sure, someone could dig up that junk if they really wanted to, but, as a 20-year-old with barely any following, no name cache and neither adoring fans nor vindictive enemies, what’s the worst that could happen?

Well, one way to answer is that instead of intelligently harnessing a powerful medium towards your own gain and manufactured credibility, you’re left as just another low-caliber pundit, spouting off to 162 people, or, worse still, not spouting off and merely falling silent, letting your potential platform become a dormant, yet requisite aspect of your persona, online or otherwise. If you have a tool, you shouldn’t just let it rust, right? The same is true for your community, extended or close: Without maintaining connections, they’ll certainly fade and likely be lost.

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Part 2

I struggle with the proper approach to social media; with its role in my life. Is it best treated as a tool: A means to some professional or personal end? Or is it, as a marketer might eagerly assert: A transcendent means of communication between friends and family, bridging gaps, crafting harmony and fostering communities rooted in the celebration of niche interests? The answer, probably, is both. Ultimately, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, forums, whatever, are all tools of self expression. They allow us to enhance our lives through creation and promotion, build new relationships and keep up correspondences. But there’s another side to it as well. The compilation of friends, images, aphorisms on images, et cetera, are all documented, all compiled under your name, your pseudonym, several of your pseudonyms. And, no matter how far spread and disparate your collective persona is, it all exists in a way that it wouldn’t have fifteen, twenty, thirty years ago. That’s not news, but I think it bears consideration. There’s only so deep we can back away from our output now. Before, maybe, you could keep edging past your prior engagements and youthful activities, proclivities or interests; you could disappear completely; remove oneself from a scene if need be, or the fancy came over you. We do away with that option by transplanting that maturation process from physical to digital locales. Your LinkedIn and Facebook and Twitter ostensibly exist in different arenas, but are, obviously, all connected. Professional, personal, confessional, meditative, funny, stupid… You may expect your multiple facets to retain some separation, some nuance in their contexts, but they can’t. I’m not the first to use the word “flattening” in relation to the web, but that’s what this amounts to: A systematic blurring of dimensions; a combination of so many contexts that they cease to have meaning. Basically, the death, among other things, of eclecticism.

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Part 3

A constant etching of our past isn’t necessarily bad, of course. Maybe we ought to be held more accountable to the things we say, the actions we take; maybe we ought to be proud of the groups we align with and the banners (textile or otherwise) we choose to rally under. But we ought to be wary of anything that depletes optionality or paints us into corners, even as we hold the dripping brushes.

At 20, I wasn’t considering the implications of saying something trivial and half-thought-out on Twitter. I scoffed at the idea of personal branding (I’m still not thrilled with the concept) and assumed a certain compartmentalization that, in retrospect, didn’t match reality. Maybe an ingenious aspect of the internet is that it keeps us seeking out the most specific versions of ourselves. It invites us to channel desires and interests, professional goals and life experiences into the same current. The danger of publication is the audience’s inherent assumption that you’ve drafted, edited, polished and crafted your creation in your image, not just sent it out into the world without a thought, without a well-considered consciousness of the lurking possibility of inflation and, more sensitive still, conflation. We lose context because we assume that someone’s online presentation is the way they really are, or, at least, they have chosen to be. Why else would they have posted what they did? What other purpose could there possibly be beyond adding another attractive, supportive column to your public-facing structure. The internet makes us view people as cleverly crafted commodities because why wouldn’t you take the generously allotted opportunity to perfect your output’s appearance? There’s a certain corporatizing filter that any post goes through, something that isn’t intrinsic to the physical world. A skepticism that goes without saying, paired with an acceptance that bears repeating ad nauseam. We’re at once unable to take anyone at their word nor separate them from it. If we contain multitudes, we also contain depths, I fear that that is taken less and less for granted.