Monday, February 8, 2010

parsley rage or the inanity of social media

A couple of nights ago on twitter someone I respect and admire posted that she felt unheard, ignored, not acknowledged. I know that feeling—it's as if there's some secret to being popular and I don't know it. Some people get retweeted (their messages forwarded by others) often. They're responded to. More and more people follow them. Often it's celebrities, as if Kirstie Alley or Alyssa Milano's thoughts are far more pithy than others (they're not). Then there are twitter celebrities. I'm sure there's a catchy name for that but I'm not playing. People with tens of thousands of followers. I find they generally fall into 2 categories. Self proclaimed social media strategists or the-universe-is-filled-with-light-so-I'm-spreading-joy-and-wisdom enthusiasts. And then, there are the rest of us.

I shared that my most commented on facebook status (the other social media entity I'm far less addicted to) was my dislike of parsley. That inspired dialog, discussion, heightened emotions, cooking tips, character analysis—it went on for more than a day. Parsley was a social media lighting rod. But, when I talk politics, publishing, relationships, parenthood . . . not so much.

It seems it's the inane that get people talking, the surface, the shallow, the quick thoughts with no depth to support them.

The promises that if you follow this person, you'll find social media success because just knowing them will somehow rub off on you. And, I wonder, what is that success? Is it increased business? Personal satisfaction? Having 50,000 followers?

As I write this, I get where I'm going.

Twitter is a mirror to current reality. Instant celebrity. Popularity. Trying, with hype, overt enthusiasm, attitude, to come out on top. For those of us not at the summit, often following the ones who make it there with a reverence that's often not deserved.

When I first started on twitter I asked a friend in pr, far more experienced in this than me, how it worked. His advice: follow popular people, get them to engage with you and then hopefully their followers will be interested and will follow you too.

Sounds eerily like befriending the head cheerleader.

I want to know why people with far less experience than me inspire fascination and hero worship. There are no absolutes in social media. There is no truth, no matter what they say. It's changing, evolving, growing. It's the epitome of impersonal with soul-bearing moments. It's helpful and horrendous, a real time glance into what people are thinking mired in nonsense.

It's a look-at-me popularity contest. And smart, insightful, thoughtful people can feel like losers when they send thoughts out into the twitterverse and no one answers.

I've been there. Most of the time. I'm amazed at what people don't respond to.

Sometimes I feel like deleting my account and using my time more efficiently. Instead of mindlessly watching the stream go by, actually writing my book. Talking to real people. Making contacts, going to museums, engaging in the world. Thinking more deeply than thoughts that need to be truncated to fit each post.


But, while I write this, every few minutes I check to see if anyone's written to me.

Even though it's endlessly distracting, frustrating, ego-bruising at times, I'm not ready to give it up yet.

I'm feeling the L glowing on my forehead.


Christopher said...

If you have an L it is shared by many. I like Twitter mostly but I am like you, always amazed at what gets reactions.

Excuse me while I go polish my L.

Morgan Ives said...

This is an excellent analysis. Another thing that annoys me about Twitter is when you disagree with someone, one of the ways they prove themselves "right" is saying "I have more followers than you. Thus I am more right." When, as you pointed out, it's all just a silly popularity contest based on superficiality.

I'm glad you wrote this article and I enjoyed reading it. Even if you don't get very many comments because it makes people think :)

Jane C Woods said...

Oh Elissa, you capture it well! I took ages to 'get' twitter, having been advised to tweet by my marketing guy.

But suddenly it clicked. I don't actually want masses of followers (which is handy as I haven't got masses..), I can't stand daft things like Follow Friday etc and I hate people telling me about 'The Secret' or how to grow a male appendage. So why continue?

Well, for me it's like that chat at the water cooler. As someone working mainly from home (coaching women)or out training in organisations, I yearn for a bit of company now and again. Certain people have become my mates, they make me laugh or cheer me up.

And I have found it good for my work too. Why, I even met the amazing Elissa Stein on twitter and interviewed her for my Inspirational Women series!!

Olivia said...

My twitter story, I'm am sure, is not exclusive, and in fact, may be the litmus test to quality social media.

The initial rummage for followers quickly faded as I realized what the consequences to my sight line were. Over the past few months I've trimmed the sails and reduced who I follow by half which included deep analysis of everyone who follows me. Blocking several people became necessary as my review of their twitter motivation found an adverse to my own. The freedom way outweighed the other.

This has brought me to you and other quality individuals. Even though I sometimes find myself invisible at times. I try to not let it affect me, but I have to talk to my head sometimes.

Anonymous said...

I told my husband that I will get the most Face Book comments if I have soemthing tragic happen- now how pitiful is that? I, as a makreter- look at my fb posts and look at response rates. There is somehting sick about that. I too want to get rid of the L. I won't even tweet in the twitter world.
I think people like to stay on the surface,away from conflict, awayu from seriousness, away from being judged. Its just easier. I go in between and wonder always why some posts get reaction and others -like my friend speaking abut her cancer don't get half the praise they should. thanks for making my L shine today! Janie

MrsWhich said...

I see twitter as part of the great human experience of increasing communion, no matter how inane most of it is. I have gotten more support from some of my twitter friends, more ideas from some of their blog posts, than I would dare ask for in real life. I don't have the luxuray of time to build new relationships face to face, but a few minutes every couple of days and I'm getting to know amazing people from all over. You were one of the first and a key connection to many of the others. Thanks for being on Twitter, Elissa.

LPC said...

Thanks for bringing this up.

Thinking about what you say, I realize that I had my online wings singed in a forum on college admissions several years ago. Jumped in, felt like love, hung my self on the line. Slowly realized it wasn't a good way to work. So I've approached Twitter with very little emotion, maybe get less out of it, but leave way less flesh on the floor.

Now, my blog, there I struggle to build a thick skin. It's harder because I invest more in what I say.

ScottSheperd said...

Great post!! I was on twitter. Cancelled. Got back. Cancelled again. It's too weird for me. You make a comment and maybe you get a response the next day. I kept saying it was a mile wide and 2 inches deep. Thought I have met a few wonderful people it was a very barren feeling. I felt sometimes like the kid raising his hand frantically, "Call me. Call me."
And I really like your two categories. I really wonder if anybody makes any money from social media besides the ones who say the will show you how to make money from social media.
And the second one?! I'm a helper. But to be honest I'm getting sick of it. Because of what you said. Half the world sees themselves as helpers and that implies the other half is screwed up. Tired of that game.
Great post!

Catharine said...

Dear, dear Elissa, the ironic thing here is that people *do* care very much about you and what you have to say. (By the way, Bora once wrote an entire blog post about liking (or not) cilantro: People are listening to you. I know I am. The truth is that there have been a couple of times since I started using Twitter when I have been just a hair on the wrong side of emotional stability. And do you know what happened? I reached out and people DID respond. It was very validating. I've met some people through Twitter who have become very important people in my life. And I haven't written a book (yet)! Have you ever considered that perhaps some people are intimidated by you because you are so accomplished, so warm and outgoing? Many people use Twitter because they are socially awkward at best. There are probably lots of people who want to have meaningful conversations with you but feel 'under-qualified.'

There is so much potential for creative, meaningful use of social media that it is a shame (although probably inevitable) to see it polluted with adverts. I would say even using social media to advertise (or spread-the-word) is perfectly acceptable as long as you are talking about something more meaningful than weight-loss with green tea, for the low, low price of....

Sometimes when I get Twitter overload, I unplug get out a book (or even a Jewish text - and I am not religious - or bake challah) and generally think about why I do what I do and to what end. If I notice that I am behaving in ways that are inconsistent with my ethical values, I make adjustments to the best of my ability and try, above all, to remember what is really important in life.

Having said all of that, let me just say that I am most definitely listening.

Elissa Stein said...

Thank you folks for taking time to respond, for your thoughts and comments. I too have had my ups and downs with twitter. I've been stalked. My life has been threatened. I've been offered great things and then had people turn on me in a flash. I've also made amazing friends, people who light me up whenever I see their photo scroll by. People who make me think, share ideas, challenge me, share with me. Twitter's given me this unbelievable platform for FLOW and it's been a joy to share it with such enthusiastic friends and followers. I've had opportunities come out that I never could have dreamed of here. It's mining the rocks for the gold. Challenging at times, but well worth the effort.

LPC said...

Stalked. Yikes. That requires a serious Buddhist framework, I imagine, or else police.

Elissa Stein said...

Police were apparently called after the death threat (the person said someone had hacked into his account. The stalker disappeared after blocking everywhere. There are some people on the edge out there.