I joined Facebook in 2009, quite late to the game. I used to be one of those self-proclaimed luddites that didn’t own a mobile phone until about 2008, and then had one of those old-school Nokia 3310 and was fiercely proud of this. As I trudged into inevitable modernity, I agreed to setting up a Facebook profile. At the time I didn’t know what I was doing, so I put up loads of pictures, friended anyone who asked, and happily stalked my frenemies.
Then I got introduced to Twitter, so I set up a profile and then promptly forgot about its existence.
By the time Instagram came into my life, I was a little wiser. My Facebook newsfeed was awash with unwanted fluff ranging from the mind-meltingly boring ‘Just saw a cat trip over. LOL’ to the downright annoying ‘Best news ever, my life is about to change’ (and then no explanation why). I decided to do something different with Instagram, so I didn’t follow my friends but followed creatives, photographers, fashion influencers and basically all the people that inspired me. I was creating my own magazine, curating the content meticulously and commissioning (work in a way). The result being an Instagram feed that I found wholly engaging and entertaining. I went back to Twitter and did the same, following my favourite thinkers and writers, and creating a newsfeed that kept me up to date on all the subjects that I was interested in. I thought about doing the same for Facebook, but chose not to, because I still wanted a way to feel connected to my friends and community on there (yes I am well aware it’s not a real connection, but it is better than nothing). What I ended up with was a suite of reading material. Twitter the broadsheet, Facebook the tabloid, and Instagram the glossy mag.
I was pretty smug about myself at this point, I thought I’d cracked what social was all about. Then it became obvious that the more I knew, the more there was to know, and I noticed that there was a hierarchy of social networks. Facebook is rapidly being pooh-pooh’d by the digitally savvy, there is an air of superiority about knowing the most obscure social networks, and anything too populist is just not cool anymore.
All of a sudden I was back in high-school again, the jocks and prom queens were on Facebook (I clearly only know about school from American coming of age movies), the Plastics on Instagram, the Potheads on YO, the Geeks on Reddit, the Entrepreneurs on Twitter and the Sci-fi nerds on Super. You can be defined by your mix platforms, so with my FB, Insta and Twitter mix, I guess I am quite populist but fancy myself as someone well read. You can mix and match and dial up and down the measurements until you find the recipe that suits you best.
But why bother at all?
It could be because as we move forward in technology, the more disconnected we become. Instead of making time to visit someone, you can just click on their profile. Instead of a cultural evening out, we binge watch Netflix. If actual contact between people is becoming rarer, perhaps social media is a way to maintain connections with people in a way that fits in with the modern way of life.
Or it could be complete vanity. We use these platforms to broadcast the best and shiniest versions of ourselves, and why not? We are constantly surrounded by media and advertising that promotes a brand, so it’s not a huge step that we take on self-promotion as a way of communicating. In fact it could be because we are so immersed and saturated with advertising, that it feels completely natural to use social channels to advertise ourselves. (I’m @tammymeaculpa on Instagram and Twitter #jussayin)
However, mainly because I’d like to not label myself as either disconnected or vain, I prefer to see social media as something more positive and accepting. In a timeline of history, this relatively new growth spurt of technology has led to a change in the way we communicate with each other. Perhaps this preoccupation with ‘social’ is just us diving in and testing out what the waters are like. Imagine we invented paint for the first time, would be wrong to eat it, to throw it everywhere, to smell it – so that we were immersed in what paint truly was? Once we understand the medium, then we can create beautiful things with it. In the same way, maybe this is a necessary stage of saturation in social, and perhaps the next step will be just as beautiful as creating a painting.