On a personal level, I’ve always kept up with social networks, even before we knew to call them that. The first one I remember being invited to join was Friendster, which led to MySpace, which led to Facebook, with a few gay-specific ones in between. I’m technically on Tumblr, but it isn’t really my thing, and Pinterest just seems boring as hell.
I’m constantly debating about social networks and whether they provide more good than bad. It’s hard to tell, and everything I’m doing from publishing to stand-up comedy, etc., sort of require a social media presence, until you get popular enough to do without one.
Growing up with R.E.M. and U2, I have to say, it only adds to the mystique of both bands that I can’t follow Stipe or Bono on Twitter, and know about the minutiae of their lives. I like not knowing. There is a mystery to them that is part of why I appreciate the rare moments when I have spent time in a room watching them perform live.
I’m in contact with people I haven’t kept up with, but you always have to wonder why you didn’t keep up with them in the first place. And there is that sort of mania about Facebook, that you have to keep up, and comment, and see what people are doing, and you can do it for a while until you realize if you had learned none of those things, it wouldn’t have mattered.
One of my major goals for 2013 is to have a deeper experience with less things, such as music, books, friends, movies, etc. Social networks have seemed to amplify the mundane, disguise it as intriguing, and then reveal itself when it has sucked the maximum amount of time away.
I keep up virtually with people in California that I never spent much face time with when I lived there, and it makes you wonder what the point of it all really is. So, this year, I am ramping it all down. This essay project is part of it. Finishing a few editorial projects will also fill that time.
The hardest part is just relearning how to commit to something. For example, I love MUSE. I’ve seen them in concert a few times, and have tickets to see them at Madison Square Garden on April 15. The album they are touring came out in 2011. And I’ve barely listened to it. With podcasts, and all these other pop culture earworms, I keep avoiding MUSE not because I dislike them, but because I want to really devote myself to enjoying them, but never committing the time. But b the time I see them in concert, I hope to be intimate familiar with the album.
And I miss having a deep love of fewer things. I want to go on a trip with a band, feel like a journey has been completed when the last track of a great album plays through. And it’s all up to me to make that happen. The cultural drive is for me to fill the tiny gaps in my day with Call Me Maybe and Gangnam Style, not spend an hour with one band.
Same thing with books. I miss them, and my reading these days is all Facebook walls scrolling with dinners and opinions and the trivia that isn’t improving my life in any meaningful way. If Facebook hides the delusion that you are alone, then it’s better off feeling lonely and finding art to help you through it, in the long run.
The other thing that concerns me about social networks is that they don’t go away. I have a friend who is 19, and he carefully manicures his Facebook wall. He’ll post status updates, write comments, and such… but every few days, he goes back and manually deletes old posts. He might be the smartest person I know.
I’m putting a lot out here with these essays, but I figure if I really go 365 days with all of this, then it’s fine. No future employer will have the time to dig through it all and, if they’re nutty enough to go through it all, they’ll probably find something they don’t like, but I wouldn’t want to work for them anyway, so it all works out.
I do wonder about young people on social networks, though. One of my interests lately is the idea of persistent identity, which is that Facebook wants me to be Jeff Walsh. They don’t want me to be anonymous. They don’t want my name changing all the time. They’d probably prefer the picture on my account be of me. And I’m older, so who cares, really?
But I do wonder how this will affect kids in high school now. I’ve always romanticized the notion of college as a time to reinvent yourself, not that I ever did. Or moving to a new city as a time to reinvent yourself, not that I ever did. Or… well, you get the idea.
I just think there is something nice about going to high school, and then deciding to go to college with a clean slate. I grew up with a friend in high school who literally did this. As soon as college began, he stopped wanting to associate with the group of us that he knew from high school, even when he was home during a break. He seemed to recast the narrative of his high school days to focus on his being in ski club more than band and chorus. And he even changed his name from Mike to Mick (at least in how people addressed him, I’m not sure he actually changed the spelling). Now, being on the side of the fence he wanted to get away from was a bit strange… but I kind of like the idea.
If you were a fashion-challenged closet case in high school, you can start college trendy and out of the closet. And you have a lot of chances throughout life to do these things.
But now, when you graduate high school, and a majority of your high school class is also on Facebook, you’re sort of dragging your past around behind you everywhere you go. Sure, you can get inked, spike your hair, and get tagged in pictured drunk at a party, but someone from high school will be there to say that isn’t how they remember you and they hope you’re OK or some bullshit.
Employers are now demanding to scan the Facebook profiles of potential hires, especially in a bad economy where they can get away with such bullshit. And, it all just seems like too much.
There is something powerful about anonymity online, too, and I don’t just mean the ability to say nigger on YouTube (which I no longer see, thanks to the Herp Derp plugin). Christopher Poole, founder of 4chan, has mentioned the importance of anonymity online.
And, on the flip side, one has to wonder if Mark Zuckerberg, who once told an interviewer that “having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity” is really just a geek who is kind of boring, so unlikely to ever engage in any major sort of transformation where he wouldn’t want to be known as the founder of Facebook before, during, or after the process. I just don’t get the sense that he would ever need such a thing.
I do think I would have less interest in social networks is I had more of a tight offline group of friends, and I’m still in the early stages of building such a thing here in NYC. But even then, could I ever cut the cord entirely? I know I can’t from a professional angle, since I plan to publish this year, plan to continue doing stand-up comedy, etc., and it’s sort of required to promote stuff like that.
Plus, if this site starts attracting a readership (which I’m not actively trying to do, aside from autoposting a link to every essay on Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr), I may get people wanting to add me as friends there, too.
But, the people I respect the most, and most aspire to be like, I can’t conceive of them being on social networks.
Chuck Palahniuk tweeting sounds like a horrible thing. I rather image he is somewhere in the Pacific Northwest doing something interesting and profound. Same with Stipe, Bono, Eddie Vedder, and lots of other people I admire.
So, I think the first priority is building an offline life. Putting more stuff on this site than social networks, so it doesn’t just become lost in an ever-scrolling and quickly forgotten wall.
And doing more of the things you wouldn’t want posted on Facebook. Not that they’re necessarily bad things, but that they were powerful things that not everyone would as easily understand.
It sounds like a good start.