Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Private Goes Public: Social Media Overexposure

One of the defining characteristics of Generation X is that we have the anomalous distinction of being able to not only accurately recall a life before the information highway kicked into high gear, but to also be cognizant enough to navigate technologies that are able to process a constellation's amount of information within a baby's breath amount of time. My mother, innocently enough, thinks a tweet is a modern-day euphemism for a vagina while my nephews and grandnephews have no idea what a Sony Walkman, rotary phone or dial tone is. Having one hand on my record player that still plays my Suzanne Vega 45 rpm vinyl records and another hand downloading the 25 billion songs available on iTunes, I do have a tendency to swoon at the prospect of acknowledging, managing and utilizing the vast amount of technology available while still emotionally tethered to the comparably plebeian ideologies of yesteryear. This definitely comes in to play when I'm involved in conversations regarding how different technological tools have corrupted friendships, marriages and sometimes even jobs.

When you integrate new technologies into your life and subsequently that life experiences it's natural bumps and pitfalls, there does seem to be this increased inclination to blame those technologies. According to Divorce Online, a third of all divorce filings in 2011 contained the word “Facebook” and the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers claims that more than 80 percent of U.S. divorce attorneys say social networking is on the rise in divorce proceedings [1]. But are these technologies the cause of these relationships ending or are we as a society shooting the (technological) messenger? Facebook doesn’t create adultery no more so than photography can create obesity; they are both tools that help expose what’s already there. It is just as fool hearty to assign blame to a social media network that exposes your adulterous behavior when you shouldn’t have been committing adultery in the first place as it is to blame a photographer for exposing your muffin top when it was you who ate fifty whole muffins before the photo shoot.

There is also a common predilection to avoid social media all together in an effort to remove, repel and/or prevent drama in otherwise functional lives. But in practice, you would have to eliminate social contact all together to fully flush out any and all possibilities of “drama” since it is an unfortunate occupational hazard of living a life outside of the vacuum of your own thoughts and encountering a myriad of outside opinions, conjecture and intentions. In this, it is more than likely beneficial to not deny the stealthy integration of social media into our normal everyday waking lives, but rather to do our best in better understanding how it works. And while many discussions have been made that stand in judgment of people who overexpose themselves via social media platforms, in this highly technological world of ours that can process a constellation's amount of information within a baby's breath amount of time, “overexposure” is sometimes a misunderstood and unintended echo. This definitely comes into play when observing the reactions to relationship statuses on Facebook. While some interpret “In A Relationship” or “Married” as an echo of codependency or a thirst for superiority and acknowledgement, the original statement was simply, “In A Relationship” or “Married.”

This misinterpretation of my own Facebook relationship status combined with several restrictions that have been put on my account including a suspension due to Facebook’s now highly publicized and infamous “Real Name” policy has definitely coerced me into investigating how big of a role social media has in my life. Considering how much of a “crunchy” bohemian who still has Suzanne Vega 45 rpm records I always claimed myself to be, I found it to be shockingly painful to have my main mode of communication removed from my life. It felt something akin to having a lung removed and wanting to scream full throttle to the world about all of my pain, all of my joy, all of my brilliance and the dizzying ways I am full of shit and nothing coming out but impotent whispers. And once the suspension were over, my profile was then bombarded with restrictions and a certain level of social shunning resulting from misinterpretation of my posts and profile status. All of which have made me a little gun shy about freely posting what is truly in my heart and what is really on my mind. And while I have taken a little bit of time to shake my fist in the air, damn the Facebook “gods” and create a grocery list of “haters” that just don’t get me, the bigger query involves the desire to expose my private life to the public and who is to blame when it results in less than desirable consequences.

Never one to shy away from exposing and sometimes even overexposing intimacies of my various relationships, updating my relationship status on Facebook once I got into one was a no brainer; mainly to tell the truth about my relationship status, lay claim to our relationship and well… yeah, I think we’re cute together. A sentiment I’m realizing is not shared by many in long term monogamous relationships, particularly in the LGBT community. With so many gay men claiming their eternal and undying love for their paramours on a consistent basis, summarily breaking up, then claiming their eternal and undying love for the next paramour, then the next, then the next and then the next… the optimism of the LGBT community has worn down to a blunt nub when hearing of a new declaration of eternal and undying love. It also does not help when after declaring eternal and undying love, some people simultaneously post and request pornographic pictures in secretive groups in hopes of surreptitious sex. But even still, I trudge on drawing hearts and bows on the public electronic locker door of social media, I declare my own eternal and undying love to the collective eye roll of a community, I damn popular convention to keep my private life private and to adhere to loose unempirical rules of etiquette that can be found anywhere on the net nowadays, including one by blogger Jessica Catcher the lists “12 Facebook Statuses You Should Retire”[2] that include:

  • The Braggy Relationship Status (e.g. “My BF is the beeeest! It’s not even our anniversary or my birthday! He’s just so sweet!”)
  • The Attempt to Make Mundane Tasks Sound Interesting Status (e.g. “OMG such a busy day! Laundry, gym, grocery store, I have a paper due tomorrow! Someone get me a coffee! LOL!”
  • The Detox/Cleanse/Health Food Junkie Status (e.g. “Day 6! EAT CLEAN!! Check out this nom vegan dinner I made!”)
  • The Sad Sack Status (e.g. “I guess I’m single again. I really thought he was the one”)
  • The Overly Aggressive Passive Aggressive Status (e.g. “SMFH! Why do ppl gotta be talkin smack! Whatever! Just tell me to my face!”)
  • The Threatening Facebook Status (e.g. “Facebook sucks. I’m ditching this ho.”)
  • The Friend Purge Status (e.g. “If you can see this, you survived my friend purge. Lucky you.”)
  • The Bored Status (e.g. “Ugh I’m so bored! LOL! HMU!!”)
  • The Spoiler Status (e.g. “OMG! Did you see Breaking Bad? The ricin was in the Stevia!”)
  • The Vague Status (e.g. “Ugh.”)

While I find this list amazingly funny, it does beg the question of, what the fuck are you supposed to post? If the idea is to express what you are feeling, and feelings by nature are organic, messy and annoying, aren’t all these items and a slew of others just a part of the human experience that we are supposed to be sharing on or offline?  It is enough to make anyone utilizing social media platforms to be a little gun shy about posting anything out of fear of breaking some hipsters’ rules of decorum. You could post something as simple as “I’m having a great day” and it could be added to the list as; “The Too Happy Post: No one wants to hear how happy you are.”

And with Facebook’s “Real Name” policy, that scrutiny goes all the way down to your name. Regardless if the name on your Drivers’ License does not reflect who are, what you do, your current place in life or anything you care to associate yourself with, you have to use it. Despite the fact your pseudonym might prevent your abusive husband from finding you, increases your brand, affects your income and identifies who you are as a person aside from a Facebook consumer, you have to use it. Damn if you can’t afford the name change that can run upwards of $600 that would reflect your current sex, spirit and/or persona and until you wade through Facebooks’ Help Desk’s bureaucracy for an infinite amount of time, you have to use it.

So if you are saying things you don’t want to say under a profile name that you don’t want use, what you essentially become is a marionette whose cords are tethered to Facebook’s “Powers That Be” who pull your stings according to the sarcastic needs of hipsters unaware of the textural differences of cultures and lifestyles different than their own. But alas, we are talking about Facebook here, the number one social media platform in the world with over 1.31 Billion users [3] who feel more than privileged to be connected to the greater lexicon of the world. The inclination might be to damn Facebook and to flatly declare it to be the villainous enemy to a conscious and free thinking society who values its own identity and nomenclatures, but if the enemy comprises over 18% of the planet’s population, the wait for the revolution that would entice the world to unplug from that particular source might be a lengthy one. Plus, there are benefits in understanding social media platforms and how they fit in the greater landscape of communicating to the world at large; namely that everyone is not the audience for your posts and you are not the audience for every post. I think this addresses all “Do’s and Do Not’s Of Social Media Posting” lists including Catcher’s. I believe… DO say what the fuck you want to say; DON'T filter what the fuck you want to say for fear that you would wind up one someone’s list. And if people feel as though you are crying emotional “Wolf”, let them turn their backs on you, your cries weren’t for them anyway. And if someone’s post does not coincide with your own morality, feel free to turn your backs on them. While it is popular to bellow the principles of “Free Speech”, one of its more powerful inadvertent tenets that is often overlooked is the “Freedom To Walk Away When Someone Is Saying Shit That You Don’t Want To Hear.”

And it is the belief in these particular freedoms that have slowly been stiffing my resolve when it comes to being the kick-ass, balls-to-wall, social media poster, blogger and graphic designer that I usually am. And with innovative new social media platforms such as Ello creeping out of the shadows and giving us free thinking artisans, citizens and social media denizens alternatives to the puppet show that Facebook is slowing becoming, maybe the wait for that revolution is not as far off as I conjectured. I even welcome the idea of occasionally unplugging all together. My recent forced social media exile did provide some much needed objectivity when it comes to online communicating resulting in believing that Facebook friends can be real friends if you're not relying on Facebook to sustain the friendship, people intimidated by pictures and posts involving my relationship have an issue with their own esteem not our intentions,  if you're greatly annoyed by someone's pictures of their partner, pets or food more than likely those posts were not meant for you and while I am suggesting an integration of technology in our lives as opposed to a repulsion of it, face to face conversation with other sentient beings always trumps screen based interactions.

And maybe when the next generation has one hand downloading the 25 centillion songs available on iTunes and the other hand proclaiming their undying love of their relationships using the name that best identifies themselves without the judgment of a bitter community waiting for it’s fall, they’ll think of this dubious time in the history of social media and say, “thanks for sticking it out, thanks for being honest, thanks for accepting my friendship request and thanks for coming out and actually having coffee with me face to face and telling me all about Suzanne Vega."

Male Media Mind