Tablet with the word 'connect'
Image credit: NordWood Themes

Social ME-dia

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about my online presence recently — about the platforms themselves, whether I get any value from being on these platforms, about my online personas, about how much time I spend online, and so on.

There’s a lot to unpack here and it’s probably easier to start with the platforms themselves. Like most people, I’m on many different platforms and for different reasons. There are the usual suspects: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, various Slack channels, and a few Mastodon instances.

Over the years I’ve also experimented with various platforms. Remember Google+? Some platforms where initially not designed as social media platforms but then added on more features to support interaction. Other platforms changed mission or audience or nature quite significantly. Some for the better. Some for worse. Some vanished. My interests and activity levels have also fluctuated quite a bit over the years. After all, there’s work, books, podcasts, Netflix, sleep, and, of course, life in general. Life changes. Interests change. We change.

Social media can be fun and infuriating and boring and exciting everything in between. But it turns out that most days have only about 24 hours each, and much — if not most — of the (social) media diet is just an incredibly mind-numbing time suck with tons of empty calories and virtually no substance. On top of everything, every second we spend online, every link we click, every word we type, every image we see, every video we watch — literally everything we do intentionally or unintentionally — is added to the other gazillion data points used to track us online and in the real world. Every feature on every platform and in every app is designed to collect and aggregate as much data as possible. Data that will be sliced and diced a million times and sold and resold and repackaged and resold again.

I know I am the product. There is no escaping that. Well, there is, but it takes some effort (and it’s a great subject for another post). Now, at this point I’m ok with “being the product” — at least up to a point. After all, our online lives also have some benefits, and as Talk Talk taught us, “Life’s what you make it” (See what I did there? You know all these 80s bands will make a come back 😉).

OK, where was I? Right … “life’s what you make it” and that definitely applies to our online lives as well, if not even more so. I’m now completely rethinking my online life and am reevaluating the various platforms and what, if any, benefits I can derive from each system. It’s clear that the value — to me! — of some platforms is eroding ever faster and I’m rethinking how much time I want to spend — or rather waste — on them and what kind of interactions I’m willing to engage in.

And as the various platforms promote ever more crap and become ever more sleazy in how the conduct themselves (ever read the EULAs?) and use our data, I’m further adjusting, or even curtailing, my online presence on each. I’m also actively taking steps to make my data less useful, less personal, and, whenever possible, more difficult to collect or collate. Resistance may be futile, but I won’t give in without a fight!

More importantly, I’m actively trying to make the platforms work for me so that life online is not a waste of time, but rather adds another dimension to my life in the real world. I have found that what works for me is to create a few personas based on interests and these personas have their own accounts online. These personas may coexist in my head, but they do not overlap online. Strange? Not really. We all have different personas (home vs. work, and so on) and move between them more or less fluently and effortlessly depending on situation and circumstances. It’s humans being humans.

I have found, though, that creating and managing online lives based on personas makes it a little easier to enjoy the various platforms a bit more. Of course, it’s easy to go crazy and create multiple accounts everywhere. But then it becomes a chore and the value is quickly diminishing. As with everything else in life, the real trick is to find a proper balance.

I’m still working on finding the right balance for myself. For example, I have this love-hate relationship (although lately it’s mostly “hate”) with Facebook. The problem is that some of my best friends are very active on Facebook, but not on the other platforms. And what about all those family-wide WhatsApp group discussions? And the Instagram feeds? I know that I won’t be able to get everyone to leave Facebook for some Mastodon instance, or Instagram for Ello, and so on. Although I’ve been able to get my parents on to Signal! (Can you hear me shout “Victorious!” in the background?)

Where to go from here? For now, at least, I can neither confirm or deny that I’m maintaining three (or so) online personas, some of which have accounts on multiple platforms. Some are very active on some platforms, while others are not or at least not very active on every platform. For example, my main persona, is more active on Twitter than on Instagram, and is in “lurk mode only” on Facebook. The foreseeable change for this persona will be to become a more active writer on LinkedIn.

I’m also considering a “nom de plume” for a new persona on Medium. This is for a new project, and yes, there’s a whole backstory to this. This is still in a very early planning stages, but I’m in essence trying to figure out how to create a fictional character who in turn creates a consistent storyline across many different platforms.

More to come on that. But now I need to go back and get my social media fix!