Crossing The Line From Presence to Self Promotion
Reflecting on Social Media and Narcissism
Lately, I have been thinking about the line between self promotion and having an online presence. I am not suggesting that it is one or the other and recognize that there is a genuine continuum along the path but I know that there is a definite line and I definitely don’t want to cross it. So what are the factors that take us across the line from sharing our thinking in a professional manner into self indulgent representations of ourself?
I am drawn to the story of Narcissus who gazed so longingly at his own reflection in the water and fell so deeply in love with himself and at the same time realized that this love would not be fulfilled so he lost the will to live. I mean, we hear all the time about the “selfie generation” who are apparently twenty somethings obsessed with their own image, but can we count ourselves out of this? I certainly have taken my fair share of selfies and I am definitely not a twenty something! I mean, to be honest, I take my best angles! I know precisely how high to place my camera so that I can look my best — every time— we all do it.
As you can see, it isn’t always a solo act either! With Snapchat it is hard to resist. The whole point of it is selfies. My daughter, Rachel and I, will take series of selfies where we make the same face. I even found a way to put my art on my face so now it isn’t just me — it is me, taking a selfie of me, with my art, which is also a reflection of me, plastered on my face. It is like that scene in Being John Malkovich when John Malkovich goes inside himself and all that there is left is Malkovich.
Last month, I was honoured to do a TEDx talk. There were so many moments that I will treasure forever but some of the best that evening were with my dear friend, Nada Aoudeh. We spent most of the night in the green room, away from the crowds, sitting with each other before we went on the stage. Nada went first and after her talk, checking Twitter, she saw a slew of tweets honouring her amazing talk. She turned to me and said, “Is it arrogant to retweet the comments people are making about my talk?” I laughed and said, “Everything on social media is about arrogance to some degree…”
I haven’t been able to get this idea out of my head since then.
I have used social media as long as it has been around. Part of my doctoral work, which I completed 11 years ago, was about how we can create and re-create our online identity — before Facebook, before Instagram, before Snapchat.
Who do we curate ourselves to be and how does it serve us?
I was listening to the Note to Self podcast episode, We See Ourselves in Black Mirror, connecting ideas on the podcast with ideas shared on the show, Black Mirror. The host of the podcast, Manoush Zomorodi, interviews Charlie Brooker and Annabel Jones, the creators of Black Mirror. Brooker talks about social media as performative and that we curate our personas for public consumption knowing that how we project ourselves, isn’t exactly who we are. So who do we curate ourselves to be?
Brooker goes on to say that Twitter is actually the biggest video game where you play a character based on yourself and that social media is really a role playing game. My tagline on my website, DebbieDonsky.com, and my Twitter bio is Student Achievement Officer, Ministry of Education of Ontario, Principal, TEDx speaker, writer, thinker, creator, designer, mommy, teacher, leader, learner of all things.This is who I want all of you to know me as because these are the things that are most important to me. There are other parts of me — I am a wife, a daughter, a sister, a friend that are also an incredibly important part of who I am but why didn’t I list those?
Why do we post in the first place?
Since this idea has entered my mind, I have asked several people about their thoughts about this concept. I was walking with a colleague of mine at work and I told him what I had been thinking about. I was troubled by the idea that I might be slipping across that line after reflecting on a post I had made on Facebook that morning. I received a notification on Facebook about a blog that I had written two years before on that date. It was one of my first blogs and I really loved it so what did I do? Just in case any of my friends/followers missed it the first time, I reposted it claiming that it was one of my favourite blogs….see, I am doing it again…Malkovich Malkovich Malkovich…
In contrast, I told my colleague about my older brother, Michael, who, very unlike me, rarely shares the incredible things (please note that I am not insinuating that things I have done come close to this accomplishment of my brother’s) that he has accomplished. A couple of years ago a bunch of friends reached out to me on the same day when they saw a newscast with my brother, who was representing a family filing a human rights complaint against the Toronto Police for discrimination due to the officer’s mental illness tied to PTSD, ultimately ending in the officer taking his own life. Michael didn’t tell anyone in the family that he was on this case.
Then there is me…hey everyone, I wrote a blog! Isn’t that great? Wait, you missed it? Here it is again! Is there value in self publishing?
When I first started writing, I was obsessed with the numbers. I was chasing numbers on my blog. I would check it repeatedly through the day and get so excited when I would go over 100, and then 500, and then 1000…I have a few that have been in the 3K-5K range but the thing is, I rarely check anymore (though I haven’t gone completely cold turkey). Last year, I was listening to an episode of Chris Cluff’s podcast, Chasing Squirrels with Royan Lee (spicylearning) — Socially Responsive Media, Differences that Connect and after the TEDx, where Royan talks about the fact that if he reaches only one person with what he puts online through social media or his website, then it was worth it. He is not focused on numbers at all. Chris explains that when he posts, he is responsible to the viewer and works to nurture the relationships in his PLN. There is purpose to what they do and it isn’t about numbers but about real deep connection.
There is a responsibility when we take our ideas online, even more so for educators. The Ontario College of Teachers reminds us of this in their Professional Advisory — Use of Electronica Communication and Social Media.
For me, the blogging and active use of social media professionally shifted when I left my last school. It was most definitely a desire to connect. Being in a system level position in my board’s curriculum department took me away from students, families my staff and the deep and ongoing relationships that are created in schools. I wrote so I could connect, be seen and heard. What happened as a result of this is hard to say. I have met new people, been afforded opportunities that I don’t think I would have had otherwise such as:
- Blogging has helped me to connect with people I otherwise would not have connected with. Many of thanked me and told me the impact that my writing has had on them and it means the world to me every time. I will meet people who I don’t know at all and they tell me they read my blogs and it goes from polite strange conversation to deep hearted dialogue in moments. People feel they know me and I hope it is because I have written in a way that is open, honest and from the heart. Blogging has allowed me to wonder and question openly and this invites others into that wonder. It has led to opportunities to blog for other organizations like the Ontario Principals’ Council and Learning and the Brain
- Sketchnoting which led to being invited to illustrate articles, do graphic facilitation at workshops and meet some amazing people in that sketchnoting community. It even inspired an educator in my board to make me roll up pencil cases for my markers and pencil crayons! (Thank you again Sara!)
- Tweeting is really tied to both the blogging and the sketchnotes because it is the vehicle I used most often to share my thinking and creations. I have hosted Twitter chats for @OnEdChat, @ELLOntario (Coming this week) and now lead a podcast and twitter chat professional learning opportunity at the ministry with @TheMathPod
- Sharing my art on Instagram has been inconsistent lately. I notice that when life gets busy, the first thing that drops off is my art. This is the space where I experience the most flow. As much as I appreciate how my art resonates with people, it is my most therapeutic and meditative space for me. Everything else melts away and sound ceases to exist. I share my sketchnotes there as well but it is my art specifically that gets me into that space of flow.
Blatant Self Promotion and Nerdy Pleasures
Then, as much as we try, there are those moments in social media spaces when it is outright self promotion and the giddy pleasure of being seen by someone you admire. This happened twice for me in the last few months!
So ultimately, is it about grasping for attention because we want the buzz? Do we actually believe that we can function independent of this despite the fact that all social media is designed to be addictive? It goes back to the idea that while we are all more connected than ever online, we lose connection in real face to face life and the buzz we get from the likes, the retweets, and the reads mimic the reality of connection that we crave.
Still not convinced? Listen to TED Radio Hour when Guy Raz interviews Tristan Harris about the planned manipulation of social media. You can hear more in his TEDtalk, Do Our Devices Control More Than We Think?
This whole space is designed for likes, retweets, numbers and followers. It is impossible to escape. But there is choice… Amanda Palmer, an musician and performer who I adore calls it out…“They don’t know that we are the media!”
Beware of the Expert — Be Open to Wonder
A woman I used to work with, Val Johnston, had this saying that an expert is just x (which is an unknown quantity) and a spurt (which is a drip under pressure). She would say this repeatedly as a warning to stay humble always and she was right. When we present ourselves as the expert, we risk the danger of closing conversations rather than opening them.
I have decided that when we write, or tweet, or post, or share — what keeps us grounded and on the side of the line that isn’t looking into a pool of our own reflection is that we do just that — we take a reflective stance. When I think about the people who I love to read most, they are people who invite dialogue; they are provocative and conversational. Or as Austin Kleon suggests, they wonder and invite us to wonder with them.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi defines success as “something that helps others and at the same time makes you feel happy as you are working at it.”
By that measure, I think I am on the right path.
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Do you want to read more of my blogs? Check out my publication, Reflective Stance.