The digital world and the analog world are slowly merging together. Their common denominator: strangers. Being in public spaces or interacting online is similar because we are open to the energy of other people. We work throughout our lives, consciously or not, to cultivate relationships that we can trust. The thing about strangers is that you don’t know ahead of time if they are friend or foe.
The obvious dangers involved with encountering strangers in analog life, in the physical world have trained us over time, that is to say we have evolved to understand the risk of people we do not know. World history is essentially colonial. Humans have gone to the most unimaginable lengths to expand the dominion of their group’s power. The chronicles of conflict, an age old history of war, informs us as we step out the front door and onto the driveway. We prepare ourselves to go out in public. We dress differently. We look in the mirror before we leave. We become aware that we may see someone we really like or we might see people with whom we have conflict. Either way, we want to be ready.
When it comes to showing up in the public space of the internet, however, we seem to have lost all discretion. People compose their tweets on the toilet. You might as well go start shitting on the sidewalk. It’s disgusting how little regard we have for our own privacy anymore. We both broadcast too much of our private lives and allow too much public interaction in our private times. It’s not that the line between public and private is eroding. It is simply that we have not learned how to treat the digital world like the public space that it is.
SOCIAL PUBLIC. The first step to making social media work for you is to treat it like it is being in public. Don’t check your social media until after you have showered and prepared yourself for the day. This step alone would so radically change things for most people, it might be enough on its own. When you start to think about social media as a public space it makes you reconsider what kind of content you might post as well.
The inherent danger of public spaces has informed how humans act for our entire history. Now we have a public space that feels like we are in the safety of our own privacy and so we are not acting with the same kind of caution. There are different protocols for different parts of the public space in the physical world and the same is true, online. It is totally appropriate to take your shirt off at the beach. In line at the bank, this is not going to fly.
We understand from experience, from education and from the influence of culture how to behave in public. The nuanced social codes become as second nature as driving a car once we have mastered them. In the digital realm, though, we are acting without any kind of caution and are showing very little wisdom about safety. If you didn’t understand how to behave in the physical world just imagine how much trouble you could create. Well, that is exactly what is happening every day and night, online.
SOCIAL SHARING. Extending from that idea of social media being another kind of public is the awareness of a need to create boundaries. Even as you exercise the discipline to not engage on social media unless you are prepared for a public experience, you also have to define your boundaries so that other people know when they can contact you. You wouldn’t just show up at someone’s home in the middle of the night, and sliding into their DMs might be just as inappropriate.
Coming up with a schedule of what you want to share, an editorial calendar, will help to give the whole process a much-needed structure. The problem with social media as we are using it now is that it permeates too much of our lives. Creating boundaries and best practices will allow you to regain some traction in relation to your social media use. But, sharing consistently will proactively help to shape that process. If you decide you want to post 4 times a week to keep the public aware of a project you are working on, then that gives you deadlines that will help to motivate the production of the work. Instead of just randomly posting things when you feel like it, following a plan will give your social media presence the discipline necessary to control the volume, to modulate the amplitude. Social media can be like trying to drink from a fire hydrant. Coming up with an editorial schedule is a plumbing fix. It creates a structure that allows only so much of that activity into your life at once. It makes the whole experience much more productive.
SOCIAL DIET: Figuring out how much you want to share also gives you a sense of how much to consume. Social media can be anything you want it to be. There is as great a variety out there as you could imagine and more. The trick is to figure out what the different values of consuming culture can be, and to create a way of choosing how much and what kind of media to consume.
You can use social media to learn about fads and trends, to network, to research, to find inspiration, and also for mindless entertainment. None of those things are bad. It is just about the balance and your ability to nourish yourself intellectually and emotionally through that media. We understand that we have certain nutritional requirements, so no matter how good candy tastes we are not going to eat nothing but candy all day every day without some serious consequences. The same is true, culturally. We need to be consuming things that help us to grow in much greater quantities than that which gives us immediate gratification through pleasure but is ultimately a burden of empty calories that we will likely store as fat and have to carry around until we decide to do something about it.
All three of these shifts will help you to get more traction over your social media use and regain more balance in your life as a result. Remember that social media is another form of public. Treat going onto social media with as much seriousness as you would going in public or at least on a zoom work call. Figure out what you want to share with the world and then create a schedule so that you can build up a sense of credibility and reliability through a measured and regular presence on any platform. Finally, figure out what kind of cultural exchanges you need in order to grow and which ones are simply a fun but empty moment of time and then budget your time the way you would think about eating nutritious food and having a dessert from time to time. You don’t wake up and go straight for the ice cream every day without it starting to affect you in serious ways. We are beginning to understand how powerful social media is, and once we begin to treat it with the respect we do for going out into public, then we will get much more out of it and it will have fewer adverse effects. Social media is extremely new in the scheme of things, so it is only to be expected that there will be some periods of experimentation until we get a grasp on how to use this technology effectively and responsibly.