Monday, August 03, 2009

Does this Tweet make me look fat? Social media and insecurity

I've come to the conclusion -- based on 20 minutes of intense navel gazing and some market research that involved eating a cupcake and almost asking someone a question -- that social media has a great capacity to make insecure people feel even more insecure.

Now, I don't know about you but there are a lot of things that make me insecure. Being alive, for example. Wet sneezes when being introduced to royalty, for another. And on the surface, social media such as Facebook and Twitter should help alleviate those insecurities for the very simple fact that I can interact with people without actually having to see them or be in their presence. Also, I have the ability to review and revise every word I type, unlike the whole talking thing where every goddamn word I speak just shoots out of my mouth like a giant, ill-advised Pez.

The downside to social media is that it actually quantifies your popularity. When I was in middle school, quantifying my popularity just meant being told by prepubescent mean girls which of their friends hated me that week. Sure, there were usually charts involved and a monthly slide presentation, but more often than not, I could just let the derision go, like water off a duck's back. Sometimes I strapped an actual duck to my back to facilitate the process. (Not true, PETA. Don't sue me.)

But nowadays, every time I log onto Facebook, I can see how many friends I have. And for the most part, I'm happy because it's a nice healthy number and it likely means I won't have to hire professional mourners when I pass on -- an important savings in today's troubled economy. On the downside, I can see when I lose a friend and IT DRIVES ME CRAZY. It happened last month and I spent three hours sitting on the couch wondering if I should turn my obsessive-compulsive disorder to "ON" and comb through my friends list to determine who the missing traitor friend was. And after solving that question, I spent another few hours wondering what I could have done to drive this person away. Were they jealous of my FARKLE score? Did I denigrate their farm? Did I not reciprocate a super poke? And it's not even that I'm that upset on a personal level -- obviously, if I don't know who's missing, we weren't braiding each other's hair and trading Keith Olbermann fan fiction links every day -- I just can't stand not knowing.

Twitter can be even worse because of the dreaded spambots. Was I devastated to learn that Foxxy6969 was not really my friend but only there for cheap and tawdry marketing purposes? Yes, I was. I'd never had a friend with two x's in their name before and I was looking forward to some in-depth 140 character discussions of tyopography. But no, she was not even a real person!

One particularly terrible afternoon, I lost 20 Twitter followers...and ended up sifting through all of my tweets trying to figure out which of them could have triggered the mass exodus. That was no help at all -- they ALL could have driven people away. (My pledge to you: no more drunk Twittering. It's my new standard of excellence.) There's simply no way of knowing why a Twitter follower comes or goes. The only rational way of coping with the loss is to turn to the tried-and-true philophy of WWSD: What Would Sockington Do? How does the most popular cat on Twitter handle rejection? He probably just vomits spitefully and goes to sleep in the sun, right? And if it's good enough for him...

So what about you? Does social media stoke your insecurities...or is it, um, just me?


megan said...

Just a note that last week Twitter did a little cleaning up and it affected the number of followers for some people. They wrote about it here on the status blog. So, your follower number drop very well might not have had anything to do with you, no need to worry over it! Though I do understand.

Someone Said said...

After six plus years of doing this, I finally stopped caring. If the people you really know are going to stop reading you, chances are you'd already know there is a problem.

Jodie said...

Every time I get unfriended by someone, I go nuts trying out figure out who! It doesn't happen often, and most of the time it's someone that I barely know (and on at least two occasions, it was someone who actually deleted their Facebook account). But then I figure, if I can't figure it out, it can't be that big of a deal anyway.

RedCochina said...

Don't sweat it. The internet is so big and wide, you are bound to rub someone the wrong way now and again. You can't please everyone. I have less than 100 Facebook friends and I vow to keep it that way. Quality over quantity, yo. :)

@winterone51 said...

Haha, I've never actually paid attention to how many 'followers' or 'friends' I have. Mostly because I already know that people 'follow' and 'friend' for their own benefit - namely to see how many 'friends' they can claim for themselves, ect. The only people that really matter I talk to and/or see quite often... now if they dropped off my friend list, I'd probably start to worry.

Liza said...

Good post, and I am working on a similar post...Glad I found your blog. I have Friend Connect and no friends, but you HAVE to laugh at that. I can't promise that I always stick to it, but I try VERY hard to ignore the follower numbers, apps that indicate popularity, etc...Just like High School, one day, we will look back and laugh that we cared.

Mickie Poe said...

I won't be able to quote Tina Fey/Liz Lemon exactly, but she said it for me when Liz Lemon lamented how it used to be that you could kid yourself that your friend got a busy signal when they tried to contact you. But now? Now there are so many more ways to be rejected! Twitter, Facebook, Myspace, Livejournal, AIM, texting. Bah!

Beth said...

This idea is very interesting (and your take on it quite hilarious, by the way) in relation to social psychology. Now that "relationship" is so much more than just face-to-face and we CAN edit what people "hear" from us, does that make it more genuine, or less? And since we as a culture are so obsessed with celebrities, do the amount of friends/followers make us a celebrity in our own eyes? Are we THAT narcissistic Or is it just one more way that we reach out for attention in hope of some warm, fuzzy feeling? Social media has completely warped the way we interact with each other not only online, but in real life too. How many times a day do you say "so-and-so said this on facebook" or "Nathon Fillion tweeted this today" (or is that just me?) or "Put that picture on facebook!" (Or "DON'T put that picture on facebook!") It has completely changed the way we move in this world. Someone can backpack around Europe and their friends can know what's going on every step of the way! No more "How was your trip" conversations, because you saw all the pictures and read all the status updates. It kind of scares me to think that kids/jr highers today don't know what it is like to live without it. How will that change the "world of tomorrow"? I think it makes us think we have much closer friends than we actually do. Just because we know what people are doing all the time doesn't mean we have true relationship with them.

Sarah said...

Just a few comments...

First, Nathan Fillion tweets??? Maybe I need to get back on there!!

Second, I am much the same way. I used to lament that my friend had over 100 friends on Facebook, while I only had like 10. But, the 10 were people I know, that I have contact with quite often. Fortunately for me, my numbers have improved somewhat, but they're still people I know. And if I lose someone, then I wonder why they didn't "like" me. Was it because I didn't post often enough? Too often? Was my life so boring they ran screaming in terror?? My guess was something between my boring life and whatever picture I posted (I mean, if it drives away men on dating sites, won't the effect be the same on Facebook/MySpace/Twitter?)

I've learned to really just not care anymore. I check Facebook to play the games, about once a week I check MySpace, and I haven't been on Twitter in a while. I figure that if they WANT to know about me, or keep up with my "boring" life, then they'll know where to find me. Otherwise, may they all be vaporized in the great vastness of space.

agent57 said...

For the most part I ignore the numbers on FB, Twitter, and LJ... I guess cause I'm more interested in reading other people's stuff than seeing who is reading mine... and related to that I don't want to sift through a hundred posts from people I don't know and am not particularly interested in. One thing that does drive me crazy is the hearts/views/sales on my Etsy page... and that's more frustrating because it's tied to my art, (read: my LIFE) and I spend all this time wondering why no one loves me. (The same with Deviantart faves and comments, until they got hard to keep up with and the only thing anyone was faving was this cute but entirely half-assed Dalek doodle I did... those Daleks, so popular.)

But I make up for any lack of social insecurity by spending far too much time on the Regret Index, posting anonymously about all my other insecurities.

Jenny said...

I promise you that your worth has absolutely nothing to do with how many followers you have. People will stop following you or un-friend you for a variety of reasons, almost none of which have to do with you. I know exactly what you're talking about, but try not to let it get to you. If you lose someone here and there, think about how many people that will follow you no matter what you say. It isn't the quantity of friends, it's quality that matters.

Anonymous said...

I can totally relate to your facebook comments about losing "friends". I had a "friend" un-friend me the other week and I still haven't figured out who it was. I always start with people that I deeply care about...then work my way down to people I've met just in passing...I still don't know who the person is. Oh well. I guess the only thing that should matter is if my good friends are still on my facebook friend list.

And by the way, I think your blog is a great way to start the anyone who un-friends you on facebook is lame!

JusticeRobin said...

Sarah: yes, as both himself AND Rick Castle. Good times :)

My social media insecurity runs differently-- I don't seem to notice friends/followers, but I do get very tetchy whenever a particular form of social media in which I participate is denigrated on TV. It's extremely silly of me but for a long time I didn't want to tell people I was on Twitter because it had taken so much flack on TV. I wondered if Twitter was the internet equivalent of the uncool-kids picnic table at my high school.

Rationally, it's not, but I have deep-seated fears that life is one big high school, so go figure. In my experience, everything in the world has the capacity to make an insecure person feel insecure. Good luck with your facebook demons ;)

Amanda said...

In addition to feeling bad about not having a lot of friends, I've noticed that sometimes you're supposed to feel bad about having too many. I must have about 500 - sounds all exciting, I guess, but the reality is that a) everyone from my small town high school is on there and since I missed the ten year reunion, that was kind of interesting and b) I'm an expat in a country where many people stay for only a year. I've been here for four. I probably "meet" about 60-100 new people a year and since phones are expensive here for foreigners, we all tend to add each other after one or two meetings. Since there is a big expat neighbourhood and I live in it, that all adds up. I certainly don't really know all those people, but in the expat lifestyle, you never know when you might be in the same country to grab a beer, so why not leave them all on there?

Anonymous said...

It used to bother me if people 'un-friended' me on FB, and I would obsessively go through the list to see who it was.

Now, not so much. A lot of people in my 'friends list aren't really my friends, they're just acquaintances, but there's an elevated social status in having lots of friends. I take people off my own friends list for various reasons. If people take me off, it's not a problem.

Daven said...

Like Someone above, I finally stopped caring. I'm not blogging for others anyhow, I'm blogging for me. I have things I want to say, I have issues I want to work out. Yes, on some networks like Livejournal and Dreamwidth I get very attached to my friends since I read their updates too, but mostly for the "large audience anonymous" groups, I found I had to stop checking. I have people I know on Twitter, but I can't care about all them since that environment is too fluid. Same with FaceBook and such sites. I also found that on my blogs for writing and those sites that allow me to post stories, I had to stop caring too.

Social media is a popularity contest, no doubt.

Cara King said...

Wow, I never even notice when the number of my Facebook friends change! But I have a lot of acquaintances on there -- people in writing groups I belong to, folks I knew in high school or college, friends of my brothers -- and if most of them unfriended me, I wouldn't be hurt at all.

At one point a while ago, I decided I was missing my close friends' status updates (which is all I care about) because of so much room taken up on my feed by folks I wasn't really interested in, so I did unfriend some people. (At the time, I didn't realize I could just choose not to have them on my feed.) The folks I unfriended were either people where I'd never met them and really didn't know why they'd friended me in the first place, or people who were doing five quizzes a day and things like that... :-)

The social etiquette of Facebook is indeed fascinating!

Sareberry said...

It's not just you. I have taken a hard stance against those personal quizzes. I tell everyone it's because I will look bad if I fail theirs so I won't take them or make one for me, but really, I'm just afraid no one would take mine, much less score well on it. ;o)

marco218 said...

If, in this web of copper and concrete
And carbon, we could join our yielding souls
Any other way, I'd find this, our wholes
Inside these cubes of labor's being, sweet.
(more to come)

Rachel said...

Oooh, yes, Facebook has created massive social insecurity in me - not because of the numbers or unfriending, but because I now get to "watch" people having all sorts of fun without me. It's depressing! And even though at least some of those people live in other cities, so clearly I couldn't be at their awesome potluck brunch, I still feel sad and left out.

Lisa said...

In junior high, we had Carnation Day, when everyone would send flowers to his or her friends. The flowers were delivered to homeroom at the end of the day. So once a year, we had a very visible reminder of who was popular and who wasn't (I was in the latter group).

Social media is absolutely the modern Carnation Day. I don't worry too much about the number of friends on my Facebook page, but I do obsess about their activity. Do they post to other people's walls more often than to mine? Are they planning events that I'm not invited to? And then posting pictures of those events?

My blog is another source of insecurity. I---again obsessively---check for comments as some sort of measure of my popularity (and am usually disappointed!).

marco218 said...

More Came

If, in this web of copper and concrete
And carbon, we could join our yielding souls
Any other way, I'd find this, our wholes
Inside these cubes of labor's being, sweet.
A blown kiss, or a gentle waving hand
Tenders our memory longer than touch,
Taste or sense of soft-urging pressure: much
As we long for it, it's downwind like sand.
Still love for love knows nothing we see;
Though nothing replaces skin on skin impressed,
It's never what we want, even when it's framed art!
Electrons convey what we need: the heart,
Despite its pumping pleasure, finds rest.
As ever, we bring what we send, thus free.

crone51 said...

if I don't know who's missing, we weren't braiding each other's hair and trading Keith Olbermann fan fiction links every day

Things were spewed after reading that sentence. It wasn't pretty.

You are brilliant and hilarious. Don't unfriend me or I will become more insecure myself.

red newsom said...

Comments get me every time. "Nobody's commented on my status! Only two people have admitted to liking it! (Butitwassofunny!) I posted a video earlier and no-one has watched it." We're sad slaves to the internet popularity wars.

marco218 said...

Fixed it (I think):

More Came Harder

If, in this web of copper and concrete
And carbon, we could join our yielding souls
Any other way, I'd find this, our wholes
Inside these cubes of labor's being, sweet.
A blown kiss, or a gentle waving treat
Tenders our memories' store more than touch foals
Taste or sense of soft-urging pressure's goals:
Greater longing, sooner blown down the street.
Still, love for love knows nothing we see;
Though nothing replaces skin on skin impressed,
Our nows deny it, even when framed art!
Electrons current our sharp need: the heart,
Despite its pumping pleasure, finds rest.
As ever, we bring what we send, thus free.