Friday, 25 March 2016

On social media and other peculiarities of our time


This is my very favourite Instagram picture. It's not the one with the most comments or likes, nor the best in technical terms, but - for obvious reasons - it is the one I love most. And as a metric, that should be the only one that matters. Shouldn't it?

Well, not if your business relies on promoting your work through social media channels. My friend Kat runs two separate accounts - one for her professional persona and one personal one with pics of the kids. I can see why. Recently, she interviewed Lara Watson, who I worked with on Mollie Makes, for a Blogtacular podcast in which they talked about perfecting your style online and how they felt they'd never be one of the big accounts. They knew the rules but just couldn't bring themselves to work that style 100% of the time.

Which made me think back to over 20 years ago when I got my A-Level results. Confession time: I got a D in my English A-Level. For someone who now makes a living from writing, I have ambivalent feelings about this. On the one hand, it feels like a guilty secret that I must keep from employers at any cost. But on the other? In a perverse way, I've joked about putting it on my business card.

Sure, there were some of the usual reasons for my disappointing grade: new boyfriend, underage drinking, hanging out with the jitters on College Green (translation for non-Bristolians: socialising with the alternative kids on a big patch of municipal grass, drinking 20/20 and wearing terrible tie-dye outfits). But one of the big reasons was that despite reading and understanding the texts, listening to my teachers, finishing my essays, when it came to it I just wanted to write my own interpretation of the work. Not the revision guide version. Mine. And I was effectively marked down for my independent thinking.

Which brings me to Instagram. I know the rules. I've read the study guides. I understand the medium. And yet there's something about it that repels me. I find it hard to be that calculating. My love of taking photographs is about finding interesting subjects or angles or colours or light, rather than maintaining a consistent feed. My life isn't consistent, so why should a public, pictorial representation of my life appear to be? (This not meant to diss those for whom a perfect feed is their objective, by the way. I enjoy a consistently curated, visual feast as much as the next insecure, middle-aged blogger.)

Instead, I find myself actively withholding images from my account for fear they will put off followers. In the constant pressure to increase my stats I'm self editing to such a degree that I feel crippled.

This clearly means that I need to find another way for self-validation, to strip away the meaning I've ascribed to those little orange hearts and head&shoulder icons. And I need to be confident that portraying the not-so-beautiful aspects of my life, if I choose to make them public, are just as valid as the perfection. Writing a blog and showing snippets of life online offer such a skewed version of what happens behind closed doors (although my blog is far from consistent in subject matter). My road is as bumpy as anyone else's, it's just not always necessary or appropriate to publish it, although those are my own self-appointed terms. But is that helpful or honest enough?

I don't know. Now that I'm writing this it feels wrought with inconsistencies. Do I go with the textbook version of my life and get those numbers up? Or do I throw away the rules, risk a D in social media, and enjoy the freedom and truth that brings? What do you think?
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