I am “social media-inept.” I wrote my debut novel about twenty-somethings who are stellar at it, but I remain unskilled. I’ve done a lot of research. I’ve read about the rumored Instagram algorithm–how you should to use hashtags that are popular, but unique, that don’t sound like spam, but that everyone will recognize–and how, if you edit after you post (I’m a writer, so I’m always rewriting), you’ll be buried in the feed. My own young adult kids grasp it, but I’m still struggling. Don’t get me started on filters or Photoshop, because I have no idea where to begin. Behold my constant internal argument: “You should remove that wrinkle there” versus “No, be proud of your face!” Winner depends on my mood.
I periodically claim to hate social media, but I don’t hate it. It’s a way to stay in touch with family members and friends I don’t get to see enough. I’ve reconnected with old pals. It’s good exposure for projects and businesses. On Instagram, I also follow writers and creatives, travelers (living vicariously through them), fashion and beauty bloggers (because that stuff is just plain fun), and of course, cute animals.
Are some posts superficial to the point of silly? Yes. Do I need to see what a person is eating? Not really. But I’m guilty of posting avocado toast or artful latte foam. Social media can be innocuous, yet there is an addictive quality to it that keeps us coming back for more and coming back often. Research shows that posting produces, as Dr. Susan Weinschenk writes in Psychology Today, “a dopamine loop.” Dopamine is a neurochemical that’s released in our brain when we’re rewarded. Getting likes, shares, retweets, and followers is rewarding. Dopamine is released, and that makes us go back for more. We want to belong, and social media gives us a sense of belonging. It’s also an excellent form of distraction and procrastination, which, if not checked, can impair productivity.
Here is my opinion of the real downside: everybody has an opinion, and some opinions aren’t meant to be shared. I am inspired by articulate and thoughtful commentary on world issues, but I have been disappointed and often downright appalled at the nasty comments on posts. Anonymity seems to give people a false sense of courage. Brutal comments can be devastating to the person who posts. In addition, what goes on social media stays on social media in some form, and there is a cavalier attitude that can have long-lasting, damaging effects.
But for me, there is hope right now. The new generation of youths is using social media to come together and effectuate important change. They are speaking out in the articulate and thoughtful way that inspires me. I don’t think we need to stop admiring posts of gorgeous Tahitian sunsets, scrumptious-looking acai bowls and trendsetting denim styles. At the same time, I think we can appreciate the genuine connection that social media offers and use it with consciousness and heart.
The Seasonaires by Janna King is published by W.W.Norton, out 1st June 2018