I’ve been participating in one manner or another in social networking since the spring of 2009. Now in the spring of 2012, I’ve pulled back from it at last and want to talk a little about my experience with it. Hence, as my brother used to call my oral editorials after mass when we were growing up, a little taste of “The Jennifer Journal” follows:
I grew up in the pre-internet age, and I’m a member of what is referred to in this country as “Generation X.” I did my homework in longhand till I went to high school, then used a typewriter, then in college used an electric typewriter and then a word processor, researched sources in our library on IBM terminals, went to work at my first job after college and was introduced to doing my work on a computer via WordPerfect, acquired a Mac Classic II for home use, then eventually ended up using a Windows interface for work and now own an iMac for home use. It’s been the experience of a whirlwind of electronic tools, an awesome technological progress from about 1973 to the present of moving the connection between my hands and my thoughts to more and more remote places.
After resisting the impulse for many years to connect to both friends and strangers since the birth of AOL chat groups back in the day, in 2009 I finally gave in and joined Facebook. Then in the fall of 2009 I joined the youtube community as I started making digital films, in 2010 I started a blog, in the summer of 2010 I joined vimeo, in the fall of 2010 I joined Mubi Garage, followed by Tudiabetes in the spring of 2011 and finally twitter in the summer of 2011. For a fairly private person who grew up in the pre-internet age, this was an avalanche of information to digest and people to talk to, and I can say that I got fairly buried in it before I realized that I was really having trouble breathing.
Why did I join these communities? In the case of Facebook, it turned out to be an easy way to stay in touch with people far away. After all, I had left New York City and all my family and very good friends behind. Phone calls from the Pacific Coast time zone turned out to be a scheduling “who’s on first,” and emails fell by the wayside when I had children and almost no time to myself between working full time and being a mother. Vimeo, Mubi Garage and twitter helped me reach a film community that would have been difficult to reach given the busyness of my offline life. Tudiabetes turned out to be a great resource for me when I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. All of them served their purpose well, for a while. And then, my pre-internet self rebelled.
Social networking takes a lot of time. It’s like you’re writing essays all day long, in pieces, and in real time, and at the same time attending a networking party with a lot of (except in the case of Facebook, which I have tried to keep limited to people I am friends with offline) strangers, doing improv, performing. Fatigue! Several times I went off these networks, realizing I needed a break, semi-acknowledging to myself but not taking completely seriously the fact that in real life I’m not a very gregarious person and have few but close friendships. How did I get myself into the state of being a social butterfly when my m.o. has always been to avoid parties with large numbers of strangers, I hated dating and was lucky enough to marry at a young age with a like-minded fellow and thus avoided that whole “sell yourself” scene, and in general liked best to have intense one on one conversations with people I truly liked and truly liked me? Wow. Who was I?
So I carried on like this till… the day before yesterday. Scrambling to keep up with conversations, posting status updates, initiating conversations, throwing my random thoughts and not so random thoughts out to the world. Very strange. After a while, I felt like a hamster in a habitrail, “must communicate, must communicate, must communicate.” Huh? Why?? Why must I communicate? Do I really have to? Yes this can be amusing, but uh, now it felt it was like a chore. Oh and then, do people really care? Are we going through the motions because of some weird anxiety, some sort of sense of loneliness that has been somewhat manufactured and enabled by these communities, do people who aren’t paid for performing REALLY perform like this every day? Are these performing moments more urgent, more important than the quiet moments? Why do we have to be in touch with people ALL THE TIME? Do you walk up to strangers on the street every day and start chatting about personal stuff with them, because you know they don’t know you and they don’t give a flying fuck? Worse yet, do they even really want to hear your gripes and fears and random duties of the day? Do you need to spiffy up your writing style to amuse them? Do they really even LIKE you?
Well to be fair, I have found some lovely people through these networks. Caring people. Talented people. People who in real life, I would completely befriend. But as in real life, meeting these people is a random thing. More often than not, you run into people who… well… you probably wouldn’t give the time of day to. So this is what I decided, cut my losses, keep the few wonderful people I met in my life, and leave the rest of that noisy and strange world behind. I was hunting for something, I found the precious treasure, now I can leave the jungle.
Peace. I can breathe now. I have new friends. Good friends. I can be myself again — a reserved, intense person who treasures few but lasting friendships. NOT a social butterfly. NOT a gossip. NOT a skim-the-surface performer. NOT a lonely person.
Good riddance, now I’ll go practice my longhand.