I don’t get stage fright. Not usually. If I’m standing in front of a group of strangers to give some information about a service they could use or learn from (an occasional side function of my job in education), I typically turn off the part of my brain that cares what they think about me and just deliver them the info I came to deliver. Unless I’m coughing up a storm while my zipper is down, two things I tend to get under control prior to arrival at my speaking destination, usually, I don’t worry about how I’m received. The audience either cares or it doesn’t. Doesn’t affect me either way.
Yet, the reverse seems to be true about my online presence. It’s usually more appropriate to answer questions in an unbuttoned pair of jeans (especially after a big lunch or dinner) online than it is in front of a live crowd, depending on the topic, I suppose, but the words I deliver online last much, much longer than what I deliver in person, and that can be scary when the words or information matters. In front of real people in real time, most of my audience will remember less than 10% of what I say, and if they remember me at all, they’ll likely remember me as “some guy who came to my classroom to tell me about grammar or something.” I’m not threatened by that. But, when I send a message on Facebook or a tweet on Twitter, suddenly my words are permanent and have scrutiny appeal.
It’s a strange paradox to be sure. We all talk about how social media can mask our identities when necessary, giving room for transparency in our thoughts, especially if our name is “Anonymous” or “Some Dude,” and suddenly we’re titanium. We see it as license to spout off all sorts of nonsense because who’s going to associate it with our faces if they can’t see them? In fact, I find it especially paradoxical in the dating world (something I gave up on a long time ago), where approaching strangers for the intention of getting a date is somehow easier through a comment on a profile page and a follow-up wink (or maybe it’s vice versa—I’ve never been great at the dating thing) than it is in real life where the person of interest has to watch me stumble out the words she may never take seriously face-to-face. It’s strange how these same vehicles of delivery can suddenly flip the perception I have of people and vice-versa, depending on the topic. But masking identity isn’t always useful. In person, my audience gets to see my face. In personal relationships, that should be a perk. Hopefully. But online, what I look like doesn’t matter. What I say does, and now they have the option to not only hear my words, but to remember them. In person, I have the freedom to flub my statements. Online, I better get it right, and I better get it right the first time because they can go back and check, check, and check again, and they can fault me if they see the mistakes or inconsistencies in thought, or whatever. As a writer, it’s embarrassing if I mess that up, especially if what I say is in of itself embarrassing (or simply unimportant). Online, I have plenty of places and opportunities in which that embarrassing thing can surface.
So, social media suddenly becomes a scary thing because that Facebook post about what I had for dinner isn’t just a Facebook post anymore. It’s an admission of guilt (even though I might see it as an attempt to engage an audience). Sure, I had a salad tonight. But I also had baked fish and mashed potatoes. And a sweet roll! To anyone who thinks I should be on a diet, I may have just incriminated myself. Sweet rolls have melted sugar on top, and that’s not healthy! How dare you promote bad health? And what of Twitter and its hashtags (also not healthy)? Is it possible for anyone to use Twitter without stirring up a string of controversies? Even with 27 followers and most of them being marketing robots, the risks of shooting myself in the foot are present if not inevitable. If I confess I had a sweet roll to a live crowd, they can at least watch me wink in jest as I deliver the truth. “Yeah, I had a sweet roll last night, and how sweet it was,” I say, as I pat my belly and gesture at how much of it is now sugar. (Note: What I eat for dinner isn’t actually anyone’s business.) Online, they may not even read that far.
As a writer, I’m told I need to master social media if I want to get followers. Okay. It’s also suggested that I post regularly to Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, LinkedIn, Google+, MySpace, Hotmail, AOL, AOL Instant Messenger, Reddit, AltaVista, Match.com, Yahoo, Wazoo, Kazoo, and other things I’m probably just making up now, oh, and my blog!, and it’s too much to keep up with, yet posting builds an audience of readers, and I want to be read, right??? And everything I say must be timely, yet accurate, and interesting, yet short, and if I mess it up, I’ll lose the people, but don’t worry about that because even with ten different ways to shoot myself in the head, I only have to do it once to lose them, so don’t worry about it and just enjoy the process, as even players of Russian Roulette can be successful at times!
I’m tired, and that’s just from writing the names of these platforms.
As I read about new platforms I can use to expand my readership, something I’m desperate for, as getting readers is the hardest part of the writing process, and I’d probably have an easier time running for public office based on the experience I’ve had doing this (getting a date is still tougher for some reason, though I have no idea why, as I’m smart, handsome, idea-driven, rich—no, the opposite of that, sorry—funny…okay, this post isn’t about that), I suddenly feel intimidated all over again because here’s one more service I should sign up for to give my readers even more options for staying connected with me, even though they have enough information overload from everybody else who wants their attention, and the only way any of this matters is if they really, really want to hear from me. If the students I speak to are of any barometer, I’d think even those who need to hear from me probably don’t want to hear from me. They’re probably too busy thinking about their Facebook posts, and Instagram photos, and whether anyone will like them to worry about liking me.
So, what can I say to convince them to listen? I suppose the keyword is “free money.” But, I don’t know. Social media already seems to fit that bill. If everything is free, then nothing is valuable. Including time. I value my time. And, I value my words.
To be clear, I don’t actually mind social media. I see it as a great way to find out where people I used to hang out with ten years ago are vacationing. I’m not there with them, but I can feel like I’m there with them. It’s almost as good, right? At some point, though, I want new things to talk about, and I can’t vacation every weekend or devote hours of every day sending out social media alerts to the few people who might see it to feel some kind of connection to them. At some point, it’s time to meet face to face again. Real relationships are frightening, too, but they’re real, and they feel real. That adds to their value.
The fact is, I read all the time about how important value is to people, and it’s almost scary how much that’s true. I’m not sure how valuable social media really is. My words are permanent, but are they being read? Here’s a picture of a moose you can look at while you contemplate the answer to that question.
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Cover image: Pixabay