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When social media doesn't work as planned

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LJ Cohen


Mya is an expert at blanket fort. 

I'm an introvert.

While that may surprise some who know me from social events, the reality is while I can be quite gregarious in public, I pay a heavy price for my energy outlay. (Case in point: I am still recovering from the intense 'peopling' during Arisia.)

For folks like me who are introverts and also creatives, the internet was supposed to be the great equalizer.
Be social on your terms! Discover a tribe, a community, an audience while never leaving your safe and comfortable blanket fort! Be protected behind your screen persona! 
While to some extent, all those promises are part of the internet and social media, it's more of a "yes, and" proposition. The "and" part being that even asynchronous and curated interaction can be stressful. And that's when the interactions are relatively benign ones. For the time being, I'll put trolling and harassment to the side here, though those negative interactions seem to hit the introvert and/or socially stressed harder than the socially comfortable/confident.

And I certainly can't speak for all introverts on the internet. This is my experience. These are my musings. YMMV.

I tend to be an early adopter of all things techie and social media was no exception. I was part of the early AOL message board community and then jumped to blogging in 2004. RSS readers were my jam. They helped me keep up with folks all over the world using blogs to do short and longform essay writing, prose, poetry, and sharing images.

Then came the more overtly commercial platforms: facebook and twitter and pinterest and tumblr and google+, among others.

I made logins for all of them and for a time, tried to keep up with the communities of users in each one.

It was exhausting and instead of focusing on my blog and my own writing, I went from new posts here every 2-3 days to maybe writing something once a month. It was as if the entire landscape of social media morphed from a place to express myself to a place where I needed clicks to validate myself. It got to the point where I felt I was only interacting to get that little seratonin hit whenever someone would notice me.

And you know what? It was all draining. Being noticed is exhausting. Not being noticed is exhausting. Managing all those communities is exhausting.

I am not a small-talk kind of person. If I have a conversation, I want to dig deep and wrestle with the problems of the universe with you. In my offline life, I have a handful of intense friendships and even those folks understand that I may not see them or talk to them in weeks or months before picking up where we left off. I am the kind of person who will drop everything for a friend in need, but have a panic attack if I get too many social invitations in a month.

Computer based social media should have been the perfect place for me.

And I thought it was.

Until I realized how many hours I spent relentlessly refreshing notifications.

Part of this understanding has come by way of the loss of Google+. I spent a lot of time and energy cultivating relationships on G+. I found an amazing contingent of fellow creatives and just fascinating people talking about really interesting things. We shared long conversations, friendly arguments, and terrible puns. I invested a lot of myself there. And Google basically sabotaged the place - both actively and through neglect - until they announced its shuttering.

By then, I had dropped my investment in the other platforms to maintenance mode. Which is primarily where I am now: make minimal comments on posts that amuse me, try to post witty things that will garner notice. It feels narcissistic and shallow, but I can't seem to help it. The thought of putting any more work into a siloed network where users create the content and the value, but are only an afterthought to the commercial interests behind them makes me want to scream.

We've been sold the belief that social media is there for creative people to reach their audience. But I no longer think that's true. WE are the audience. And what social media is selling is our own attention back to us, but fragmented in an endless, recursive loop.

I am trying to find my way back to using the internet in a way that sustains me, rather than drains me. But I'm not sure what that looks like, to be honest.

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