Invisible Ink: What We Unknowingly Reveal About Ourselves on Social Media

As published in the Huffington Post


There’s an expression in academia “Publish or perish,” and today it very much applies to writers and in particular, bloggers. Except that the publishing world has changed biblically over the past twenty years with social media being a primary life-raft for survival.

According to blogging experts and my own PR counsel, in order to stay afloat, I should ideally: tweet numerous times a day on a daily basis; post to my Facebook fan page twice a day; upload to Instagram and Pinterest daily; submit a blog post at the very least once a week; and send newsletters out to my subscribers (the millions and billions of them!) monthly.

Little changes from childhood when our initial knee-jerk reaction is to do opposite from what we are told. What I am “supposed” to do almost guarantees I won’t do it. I think the last newsletter I sent out might be from Christmas and I’m sure I tweeted something last month… although am not sure what.

But there is a more reflective reasoning to my rebellion and I realize the screaming hypocrisy in the statement I’m about to make — given what I do:

I cannot stand the bloated, self-exhibitionism of social media. Of course, I depend on it greatly so it’s a personal point of conflict for me as well.

We often lament in resounding global chorus that we are raising a self-centered, entitled “Me-Me-Me!” generation and yet with the help of social media, the majority of us — not just our children — have become boorish narcissists — a worldwide, collectively, photo-shopped “Id.”

We assume that all our friends and followers will no doubt be captivated by our every move: what we’re thinking, what we’re feeling, where we holiday, what we eat, what we’re wearing, how many miles we’ve run today, how much we love our spouses and children, etc. And we post selfies of ourselves from the same angles, religiously, daily — just in case our “friends” forget what we looked like yesterday.

Indeed, I’m just as guilty as the next person. I faithfully add quotes to my Pinterest boards that reveal the deepest, darkest sides to my character. I mean really, how could my pins not be considered enthralling?

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Whether or not we’re willing to ‘fess up to it, particularly on Facebook or Instagram, we upload photos with captions written in invisible but clearly legible ink that say, “Look at me! Look! Look! I am hotter, wittier, richer, more charitable, politically active, volunteer more, a better parent or more longer-suffering, depressed, less understood, etc. — than anyone else you know!”

Few of us have come very far from our childhood playground antics of one-upping each other. No wonder a recent study has shown that social media depresses people and makes them feel more isolated. I would go further and say that all this “collective-connecting” has actually drawn people like myself further into seclusion and made me not want to come out and play -lest I am offended or worse, offend. I’m finding that the more I learn about people’s public persona, the less I want to know them privately.

The paradox of social media for me, is that for as much as we’ve advanced in social connectivity, we’ve regressed to a grotesque global state of showmanship, public preening, over-sharing, emotiveness and competitive comparison.

Of course not everyone is a social media narcissist. Many, many people share thoughtful, touching, funny or provocative posts that make you pause, perhaps even re-consider your take on a poignant issue, or better yet, applaud humanity for its humor, irony, courage or kindness.

The “gift” of social media to me personally and to my friends who have decreased their time on Facebook or Instagram or have abandoned it altogether, is that it’s made the online social seclusion I speak of selective. It’s made me re-focus and re-direct my online time on my closest friends and family in real-time — Whatsapp, FaceTime or that most antediluvian of practices — phone calls.

Sure, my friends and I still take selfies but for the most part, we send them to private groups through other social media apps. Time I am “supposed” to be using to update my every move on the Twittersphere (which still remains mysterious to me because I rarely use it) — is used instead for private friend or family groups who are genuinely interested in what I’m doing or thinking or feeling at that very moment.

We send things like, “Hey! Read this article. Am really interested in your individual takes on his premise” or “Okay ladies, be honest. Does this show my back fat?” And doesn’t it go without saying that the recipients of any unedited, ugly selfie are indeed true (vs Facebook) friends?

Social media has made me more self-aware of the unspoken messages I’m sending about myself and while I can’t claim to have it all figured out just yet, I can say publicly that I am very much a work in progress as I seek to balance what I say on my blog and social media feeds versus what I keep for my private groups.

I’ve always liked the John Wooden quote, “The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one’s watching.”

I’d actually put my own spin on Wooden’s statement to comment on social media’s effect on us today:

I’d say: “A man’s true character is revealed by what he posts when he hopes everyone is watching.”

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