Sunday, May 12, 2013

On Social Media, Self-Identity, and the "Share" Button In Our Brains (Jennifer Castle)


There's a lot I'm uncertain about when it comes to social media and how it connects to my life as an author, so I prefer to focus on the few things I do know. Like, the fact that I hate the word “platform.” And how much I love being able to easily connect with readers, bloggers, librarians, booksellers, educators, and other authors. And that these three rules seem to work for me:
  1. Only do it if it’s fun.
  2. Only do it if I'm truly compelled to put something out there.
  3. Only do it if it feels organic to who I am.
The last one is the most challenging, and, as it happens, one that ties in with the book I’m about to release in a few weeks.

My new novel “You Look Different in Real Life” is about a group of teens who are the subjects of a documentary film series that checks in on their lives every five years. I got to explore many themes with this juicy (and challenging) premise, but the biggest was self-identity. The documentary film element was a way for me to draw parallels to social media and how it lets us essentially make ourselves the “stars” of our own movies, about our own lives, which we then broadcast to the world. It also lets us choose which of our many changing roles we want to perform at any given moment.

In “Playing Keira,” the digital-original companion novella to the new book, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to articulate some of these notions in the narrative itself:

Garrett looks intensely at me for a moment, his head tilted, as if seeing something he hadn't noticed before. "You're comfortable with who you are, aren't you? You don't post things online, trying to impress friends from high school with how fabulous your college life is. You don't share a status update every time you eat a burrito or wake up exhausted from a late night. Am I correct?"

How should I answer here? I don't know Rayanne well enough to make a call on that. As for me, however. It's complicated. I don't do these things he's mentioned. But that doesn't mean I don't think carefully about everything I share with the world, especially after "Five at Eleven."

There's always something to think about, isn't there? I feel like we’ve been redesigned with a tiny “Share” button in the upper right hand corner of our brains. We experience something in life. There’s a moment of, “Do I click that button?” And then for many of us, there’s the follow-up moment of, “Do I click it for Facebook or Twitter or Pinterest or Tumblr?” (Usually in my case, by then the shareable thing has passed and I’m too mentally exhausted to bother.)

Sometimes I want to post a hilarious quote from one of my kids, but then I’m like, “Do people really want to hear this? Will I sound like a cloying mom? Oh God, am I a cloying mom?” If I upload a Hipstamatic picture of snarled tree roots because I think they're beautiful, is that idiotic? Because the Web is filled with fake-vintage pictures of snarled tree roots, and why should anyone give a flip about this one? Why do I like snarled tree roots in the first place?

Yeah, I know. BFD.

Instead of sharing, I often find myself overthinking: What does this say about me, and do I actually want to say it? In other words, that impulse to show my take on the world has lead me to doubt my take on the world. Was that supposed to happen?

Then there’s this phenomenon: Some people are lovely in person but not-so-much online. Others are shy in the real world but totally come alive in a social media setting. Which environment brings out their truest nature?

I have no answers, really. I just like asking these questions because I think they inspire good discussion and make social media entertaining on a whole extra level. It’s a living, evolving thing, and for better or worse, it's ours now. We'll have a wild ride figuring it out together.

6 comments:

  1. Lots of food for thought here, Jennifer. PS. I like that snarled tree root pic. Thanks for sharing it. PSS. Now I am wondering if I should post this comment. It seems kinda dumb...

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  2. Ha, Jody! You have no idea how many times I have written and then deleted comments on blog posts. Then written them again. Then deleted them again. Then given up and gone to find something else to overthink.

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  3. You raise some interesting questions here. I can't even estimate how many times I've deleted something. For me, the hardest posts are political. I have views and opinions on what I think our country should be doing and I have the utmost respect for outspoken authors like Laurie Halse Anderson and Maureen Johnson. But I'm not them. I'm just starting out and keep fearing I'm shooting myself in the foot if I speak my mind.

    I really loved what you said about our brains having a tiny share button -- great way to drive the point home.

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    1. Thanks, Patty! The political posts are hard for me too. I'm always thinking about who I might be alienating...but maybe it's more alienating to seem afraid to express something you feel strongly about? In the end, I go back to my "only if I feel compelled" rule and usually, I'm not compelled enough. I try not to think about why that is...

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  4. Totally agree with your rules! I always think if a promo effort is forced and awkward, it backfires. Do what feels right for YOU.

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    1. Definitely. The "forced" element always seems transparent!

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