On not social media

I’m going to be honest, here. At the very core of me, I don’t like to “be out there” in any sense, and I’m totally aware that that’s a major factor in my aversion to posting to any type of social media platform. It’s weird to me!

But getting beyond that, I know that providing access to content on multiple platforms is a great way to share content. I mean, Jian Ghomeshi says so… and I get that! I really do! I know that there are some things that just speak clearer through a particular navigation platform or a certain layout or a given media format. Information can take a new life in different places. Twitter can to be, among other things: an open and informal forum between people in distant places, a self-directed news feed or a modern ticker tape, a diary, a chat forum for friends and families, a campaign platform, and so much more. That’s why it’s so powerful.

But beyond my own discomfort at creating and sharing content on a regular basis, I’ve got a couple of reasons why I don’t really want to support multiple media platforms on my blog just yet.

A lot of the talk around social media envisions a new and radically open experience of human communication, one in which pretty much anything goes. In reality, though, there are interminable lists on proper social media etiquette. Take twitter, for example. Lists like this one and this one and this one: all lists on the dos and the don’ts of the social media universe that provide insight into navigating the unspoken protocols that organize networks of people. This isn’t new – newbies have been fumbling around forums making digital faux-pas for as long as TCP/IP has been a thing.  Like any skill, communication on different platforms takes time and effort to learn properly. But at the same time, this stuff is anxiety inducing – strategize! Use more hashtags! Use less hashtags! Don’t just tweet 9-5, connect constantly! SHEA BENNETT WANTS YOU TO KNOW YOUR KLOUT SCORE ISN’T HIGH ENOUGH. I mean, I guess it’s great for new users that there are modern day equivalents of etiquette guides available. Each platform is different, and I feel that there’s an initiation phase to rolling out on a new one. Keeping up with best practice takes a lot of time and effort, and figuring it out alone would be very difficult. But my point is this: if we’re not free to communicate how we want – and if it’s professional, I think we do have to fit ourselves into some kind of etiquette box – isn’t this another way in which we’re constantly connected to the workplace? Well, yes and no. I mean, there are a lot of great librarian rants out there. But I do think that there are limits to what librarians feel they can write about when their identity is associated with the content (as of course it must be on a professional blog). And I think that there is a requirement to put oneself into the professional mindset to write this type of content.

There’s also a tension between social media as the self-publishing, freewheeling voice of the people kind of platform, and social media as a type of ‘Keynesian Beauty Contest’. For anyone who hasn’t heard of it before, the latter comes from the economist John Maynard Keynes, who described a beauty contest where the spectators would win a prize for picking the face voted by everyone else to be the most beautiful. (I always thought this was counterintuitive because it’s not at all like beauty contests as we think of them, but for some reason the idea sticks with me.)  Keynes points out that if you want to win, you shouldn’t pick the most beautiful face, but the one that you think that everyone else thinks is the most beautiful – not always the same thing. Keynes’ metaphor was directed toward stock market speculators, not twitter-account-holders, but my comparison is intentional. We know that there’s real value out there in identifying what’s popular and catering to that middle ground, because that’s the stuff brings the people, and the people bring the advertising dollars. So if you can get there first, there’s money in it – or at least a kind of crowdsourced validation, as you watch your likes and karma and page hits tick upward.

This line of thinking is a bit hyperbolic. I don’t think that this is some kind of first or only rule of social media content. There are some amazing blogs out there that are pathbreaking and candid. Nor will I pretend that by avoiding social media I’m making a purely principled stand (see top). But it is relevant, and it’s something that bothers me, and I need to evaluate it for a while before I’m comfortable letting it go. From the professional perspective, I don’t know that I’d be able to update content frequently enough, or stay relevant on each platform sufficiently, that a second account on twitter, or tumblr, or instagram is justified. And while I don’t agree with the idea of constant connectivity, I do agree that there’s something unsettling about an abandoned or poorly maintained account.

In the end, my thoughts around this are messy. I’m not sure whether it’s newbie anxiety or professional concerns. Likely it’s both, and when I deal with both of those, I’ll dive into the social media scene. But I just don’t think I’m ready yet…so instead, enjoy this link to a brand new fake Epcot Center twitter account! TELL YOUR FRIENDS YOU SAW IT HERE FIRST.


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