DON’T BE A FUSSPOT

Can we take a moment here? A moment to stop and look at ourselves in the mirror? Not the mirror of self-admiration but the mirror of being honest with ourselves? If you’re ready for that, read on.

Please use your thumb so you can't type on your phone anymore.

Please use your thumb so you can’t type on your phone anymore.

Maybe it’s this turbulent 2014 that everyone seems to be having, but social media has been really whiny as of late. We get it: you hate conference calls, your sister isn’t a very nice person, your boss doesn’t appreciate you, traffic sucks, it’s sunnier somewhere else, ad nauseum (no, seriously, nauseum). What’s more is some of these offenders moan about the same thing every. single. day. Misery may love company, but you’re wearing us out with that shit.

Ask yourself this one question, and answer honestly. Would YOU want to follow you? Social exchanges are, by the nature of an exchange, a give/take relationship. If all your social media is full of negativity, what value are you giving others? Why would anyone want to engage with you? Further, if you don’t like something, change it–don’t just tweet about it. If you sit on your ass after going off on some long diatribe about how “someone should really do something about _____” you clearly don’t care about it that much.

“But I use social media to vent so I don’t go all Milton on the place and burn this MFer down.” Venting is natural, and if blowing off some steam helps you maintain your sanity, please vent away. But when the venting hijacks your feed–when that’s your primary mode of communicating with the world–it might be time to step away from the smartphone or desktop and find an outlet for that frustration.

Real talk and human emotion is welcome. Constant bitching is not. Be cognizant of what you’re putting out into the world. More often than not, positive input receives positive output.

SAY NO TO THE SNARK ATTACK

Hi. *wave*

7218846584_d1e226acd1_nI know you feel protected and mildly invincible behind the screen of that device you’re reading this on right now, but those feelings have created some negativity in their wake. I’m talking about the vitriolic comments that people would (likely) not make if they weren’t hiding behind their computers and mobile devices. I’m talking about the hatred that fills the comments sections of the internet. I’m talking about discourse that would make your mother roll her eyes and slap your mouth if she read it.

You know what I’m talking about. The Indy Star recently did a special on this where reporters read some of the most horrible comments on their writing. Even poor Matt Lauer was a target when he stepped in for Bob Costas’ crusty eyes on Olympics coverage. These are just two examples from my personal sphere on the internet in the past 24 hours; this stuff is everywhere. And it needs to stop.

How about from this moment on we each make a commitment to be a little less off-the-cuff snarky and a lot more thoughtfully supportive in our everyday internettings? I’m not sure when it became “cool” to be an internet troll, but if literature has taught us anything, it’s that trolls never win in the end. (Just look at the stone trolls from The Hobbit.)

This isn’t to say you can’t be witty in your online discourse. My friend Ben (he’s amazing, by the way) is the master of this. And while sometimes his puns have a bit of a pointed jab to them, you don’t question the intent behind them. His wit is never out for blood, but the humor of it never suffers for it. And Ben never lets a focus on being “the funniest in all the internet land” get in the way of being helpful either. See, there’s a difference between being a snark-shark asshole and being a witty human being.

Google “internet snark,” and you’ll return thousands of results: discussion on its origins, advice on how to deal with it, and open letters like this one that tell people to cut the crap. But perhaps the most powerful of all of the search results are the ones that detail personal struggles with internet snark and online bullying. Will Matt Lauer read every single scathing comment made about him online during his coverage of the Olympics? I highly doubt it. But those Indy Star reporters? They do read the comments, and they don’t have skin made of steel.

We don’t have to go all “Kumbaya” and hold hands here. But the ratio of internet snark to civil, productive discourse is spinning out of control. We each have the power to help stop it. The next time you feel a snark attack coming on, just step away from the keyboard and say “no.” Don’t sit around and bitch about shit just for the sake of complaining. (If something really bothers you, CHANGE it. Whoa, now there’s a concept!) Don’t patronize the snark market. Don’t feed the trolls. And never-ever-ever read the comments. I leave you with some old advice (replace “speak” with “type”)…

Think-before-you-speak

A SENSE OF SELFIE: IN DEFENSE OF THE SELF-PORTRAIT

A selfie I took this morning.

A selfie I took this morning. No shame!

Go on, admit it: you’re guilty of at least one selfie, aren’t you? Recently named word of the year, the selfie (photos taken by the photo subject him/herself, typically uploaded to a social network such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc.) is a polarizing topic these days, yet so many of us have uploaded them, including the Pope.

While certainly not a new phenomenon (I remember taking “selfies” back in the day of film cameras… crap, did I just admit to being old?), the self-portrait has come under scrutiny for being a self-absorbed, narcissistic form of communication–a vehicle by which the selfie-ee seeks approval and praise.

On the surface, that may be what’s going on. But dig a little deeper, and you’ll likely find the principles of identity management theory* at work.

Our identities are comprised of our own view of ourselves with a mash up of others’ views. During our formative years (often the teens and early 20s), our identities can shake and shift, perhaps causing an even greater need for checks and balances in figuring out who we are–and thus who we are not. But even beyond that, identity management never stops. It’s not like you suss out “This is me! This is who I am!” and the journey ends when you turn 26, 27, or even 30. Humans are ever-changing beings over the course of a lifetime, and so managing our identities becomes a lifelong process.

Selfies have become an acceptable way to communicate,” suggests psychologist Diana Parkinson. “Humans have always done this, whether it’s with cave paintings or self-portraiture – it reaffirms our identity. It’s a natural evolution.

Maybe the art of the selfie is about control, brand management, or a need to be loved. Or perhaps it’s about living out in the open, transparently, and out of context, for mass consumption. Or maybe selfies are a plea to be seen–by someone, anyone.

Some friends have noticed a change in me over the past few months. Where I didn’t post hardly any photos of myself (maybe 5 a year?), there is suddenly a flurry of selfies. “What’s going on with Ashley? She’s… different,” they ponder. At some point in my late 20s, I lost a part of myself. She retreated into the shadows, little by little, until I forgot she even existed. She had been missing for the better part of four years before some folks helped me realize she was gone. This epiphany occurred in October, and I’ve been a shameless selfie machine ever since. #SorryNotSorry

Why? Because I’m trying to regain a sense of my identity. It’s so bizarre to look at a photograph you took of yourself and think, “I don’t even know that girl.” (No, really, this happens pretty much every time.) That’s what the selfie is for me: a healing tool–a way to embrace my me-ness. And while that sounds entirely self-absorbed, think about that for a second. Imagine if the opposite were true–if you felt so incongruent in your own skin, like a stranger looking at yourself in the mirror as if your body had been switched or something. Imagine waking up one day, realizing that somewhere along the way, you lost that crucial sense of value in yourself. Imagine trying to see the qualities others say they see in you without even trying.

There’s that old adage about how the camera doesn’t lie. Sure, lighting tricks, positioning, and filters make everything better, but on the whole, the selfie is an attempt to see through an unbiased eye–to see ourselves for who we really are, reinforcing our sense of identity. The selfie is a way to explore that identity and express it to others. It facilitates understanding and allows us to control our own narratives. They’re a safe place to do all of this, too: if you don’t like a selfie you took, delete it. Zero pressure.

As Casey N. Cep eloquently points out, “Rarely a documentary genre, self-portraits have always allowed us to craft an argument about who we are, convincing not only others, but also ourselves.” So the next time you find yourself rolling your eyes at someone’s selfie, step back and realize that it may have nothing to do with showing off or accumulating praise. Instead, the person perfectly posed in that self-portrait might be engaged in an argument with him or herself, fighting for a sense of identity.

*Pardon my Wikipedia link. There are ample scholarly journals on the topic on Google Scholar, but I didn’t want to link to PDFs that readers may or may not have access to anyway. The Wikipedia article is a good starting point for the basics of IMT.

WHY WE SHARE

Social sharing is the equivalent of ego stroking for the brain. We get high off “neurochemical reward[s] from sharing information”–which may explain why so many are addicted to jabbering on and on about themselves online, the easiest forum for sharing. The same parts of the brain that light up when we eat a delicious burger or bit of chocolate also glimmer when we check our email or scroll through our Facebook or Twitter feeds.

But it’s more than the pleasure principle at work. From The Atlantic article called “The Selfish Meme” by Frank Rose:

A closer look at the advantages conferred by storytelling offers some clues: by telling stories effectively, we gain status, obtain social feedback, and strengthen our bonds with other people. And on the flip side, all of this nattering—­or tweeting—by our fellow humans ensures that we don’t have to discover everything on our own. We have no end of people competing to tell us what’s what. Hence the real paradox of sharing: what feels good for me probably ends up benefiting us all.

Sharing is a complexly layered action with a cause and reward system dependent on several variables. The irony of this post being my first for this blog is not lost on me. But rather than sharing for a reward, this blog’s purpose relates more to the first and last points Rose makes: telling stories and strengthening bonds with others.

I share primarily to understand others and to be understood. Though I’ve always felt like I’ve had a solid grasp on the former, the latter seems like a constant battle. And maybe that’s because I tend to be more interested in hearing and retelling the stories of other people rather than my own. This blog aims to change that a bit.

So cheers to the “selfishness” of telling our own stories and celebrating the stories of others! May we move toward a deeper understanding of each other.