This blog post is a long-time coming. It’s been something that I feel has been bothering me for a while now and getting it down on paper, figuratively at least here, has felt like a monumentous effort in detailing the history of my relationship with social media. But, as my recently-changed title of my blog will show, I’m trying to live my life “post-perfect”. So, here goes.
I think, to talk about my relationship with social media is to address a few things about myself:
Photography & “Hustle”
Online Dating & Romance
Fitness & Health
I don’t want to go too into detail about all of these points but I do think it’s important to get the ball rolling somehow, so to that end I’m starting with point 1: Adolescence & College.
Like many mid-20’s millennials, I first flirted with social media in middle school. I had computer class while in the 5th or 6th grade and, while it was a great platform for me to learn to use hotmail and play stupid computer games, nothing really sank in for me until I made my very own Myspace.
Myspace, what a place. It remains in my memory both a microcosm of the known social media universe as well as the launching pad for what I can only imagine were the lives of future programmers and coders who hailed from humble beginnings of html editing adjusting the wallpaper, scrolling text, music selection, and general a e s t h e t i c of their small, suburban NJ lives. Oh wait, that’s just me.
But yes, Myspace was my first real foray into the world of social media. For the record, I don’t count AOL Instant Messenger because 1. I didn’t use it as often as some of my friends did and 2. it’s not really social media, nah mean? But anyways, yes, Myspace.
From Tom, who proverbially set the tone for all future “friends” that i would have in my digital life, to the infamous Top 8 friends list, Myspace was the first real place that I felt was “Mine” with a capital “M”. Between ownership and control of what my page looked like, to the psychologically-damning scoring system of your top 8 friends, Myspace challenged me to think about what it meant to “exist” in the 21st century in much the same way that high schoolers are asked to think about who they want to be for the rest of their lives when only a year prior, they were asking to use their parents’ car to go to Ray’s house.
But I digress.
I cut my teeth on the subtle intricacies of social media life by building upon posts on others page and their posts on mine with the unusual idea of inside jokes that exist only on the internet (though these are want to progress outside, adding an extra degree of two of their “inside-ness”). Friendships in person were reforged and remade in the fire of social media interaction, to come out steaming and glistening from the bowels of poorly backlit LCD computer screens, emerging as some new amalgamation of relationship memories from hangouts both digital and personal.
All this time, though, the seed of something more sinister would be planted. Something that wordlessly existed in millennial zeitgeist: that talking about social media interactions was somehow a faux pas in the real world.
Flash forward a few years. I’m a bit older and now in high school. I have a different set of friends, a different social responsibility, and generally a different mindset about life.
Facebook was the new and exclusive thing that, from what I can remember, was college-specific and invite-only and was relegated to talk about friends who had college-aged siblings who could add them. This generated a flu-like epidemic of everyone wanting their own Facebook. I, being a part of the crowd, also wanted in.
Facebook brought in a whole other set of specific ideas about what it meant to be on social media: a dedicated page that was uniform for all others meant that content thereon mattered more. There were college- and school-specific networks that you could be a part of which meant you knew essentially all of the other people from your school who also had facebooks. Short bios, more refined photo albums, and even relationship statuses meant that there was now a dichotomy between the two worlds I now inhabited: be on Myspace and be a child-teen-person, or be on Facebook and be catapult into maturity.
Yes, Facebook was a step up in terms of maturity and for fledgling young high schoolers, we grasped at the straws of whatever made us seem “cool”. From Facebook, I learned what it was to make and accept, however tactically, the multitude of friend requests. I learned what it was to have a good profile photo that wasn’t childishly ironic or of your favorite alternative-indie-rock band. Also, I learned what it was to develop my personal “brand” of myself.
At its core for me, Facebook was the place that I learned to truly cultivate who I was for the immediate group of people that I chose to allow in my page. Like Myspace before it, inside jokes became more and more rampant. Commenting and liking on posts meant that worth could be attached to arbitrary amounts of people who happened to see those posts. A triple digit friend count would directly translate into intangible and unspoken popularity contests.
More than this, Facebook provided an opportunity for people to truly “show face”. I remember a periods of time where I would be interacting with one or two people in a tongue-in-cheek post and reply battle. Other times, the significant others of mine at the time would shower my wall with questionably-deserved praise over our relationship, and I would reciprocate (think of the precursor to saying “couple-goals” but without the understanding that it was largely in jest). Also, the system of uploading photos and tagging others would somehow mean more imaginary internet points, or even just plain old brownie points, between you and those you would tag.
While not at the time yet of being able to truly share other things on the internet, the high school pool of characters I knew and had access to meant that content was king and how you interacted with your friends dictated how you were seen, both on and off the social media platform. It would lay the groundwork for me as I entered into a different phase of my life: college.