It was two years ago at my 25th high school reunion. A woman who was never exactly a friend came up to me and said, “Oh my God, Billy, I see you on Facebook and you’re doing so well in life! That’s amazing, because, back then, well… ” She then paused and rolled her eyes in a way that connoted, ‘you were a big-time mess.’
I got a big laugh out of that, because it seemed like the kind of thing you don’t say to someone at a 25th high school reunion, true or not. And truthfully I don’t live outside my own experience, so I don’t know if it was warranted. I was, let’s say, “dramatic” in high school. Lots of crises, rampant highs and lows, and always this annoying need to share my feelings with the world. Call it a tragic flaw, or maybe call it the reason I am a successful writer. I don’t know.
I’m sure if you asked many people from my high school class, they may have found my histrionics maddening, my militant political stances cringe-worthy. And probably just as many thought I was just fine, or even better than fine. That’s kind of the way it works, and when you have a big personality and live as loud as I always have, people are bound to have opinions about you.
I bring this up because recently, more and more, I’ve been feeling like I’m back in high school. It’s Facebook and social media in general. I’ve been on for more than 8 years, so none of this is new. But I’ve been feeling it more and more recently.
If you’ve read Openly Straight, you know about the camera. That camera that is trained on us all the time, how we (some of us, anyway) seem to monitor our own behavior and focus on how we think others might see us. And of course, as Rafe finds out in that novel, the secret is that no one is really thinking about us; they are, like us, thinking about themselves, and how people are viewing them.
Back in high school, that camera was on me 24/7. Part of that was being a teenager. Another part, I think, was being gay. When you are in the process of coming out, it’s almost impossible not to think about what others are seeing. For me it was questions like, “Am I masculine enough?” “Do I have value as a human being?”
I’m older now, and these questions are mostly far in my rear-view mirror. But what I’m finding recently, more and more, is that the camera is creeping in, thanks to social media.
I don’t think we were meant to live our lives under the gaze of 1,951 people (minus those who don’t follow me, etc.). I don’t believe it’s normal to get to the point that when something happens in my life, I think, “what will I post on Facebook about this?” “How many people will like what I write?” “Is my comment going to piss anyone off?”
This is not normal human behavior. Or if it is, I guess I think it shouldn’t be.
I went on vacation for two weeks, and I took a break from Facebook. I gotta say, I loved it. It was delightful not thinking about that virtual camera. I enjoyed interacting only with those around me rather than with whoever might come across what I wrote and enjoy it, or hate it, or whatever.
I think I need to mostly continue things that way. Not post my every thought on social media as I’ve been doing for 8 years. In some ways, I will miss it. The semi-connection with others. The knowledge that someone from college who I haven’t seen in years likes my picture. I won’t miss the daily deluge of anger, fear, etc., that I was sometimes part of (see above).
Besides. I think it may be in my best interest as a writer and a person to NOT overshare on social media, as I have for lo these last 8 years. Even a lovable person (and to some I seem to be that) can suffer from overexposure. And are a writer’s words diminished if they are constantly being “published” every day?
For me, the answer at the moment is yes. Maybe that will change soon. I don’t know.
I’ll come by Facebook on occasion, and as always I’ll enjoy perusing and liking things my friends post. But for now, if you want to interact with me, send me a message or write me an email. Let’s do that one-on-one, and not in front of a world audience.