Does Social Networking Make You Feel like You’re Back in High School?

A friend who saw the film The Social Network last week said she had one of those back-in-high-school nightmares afterward. You know the kind: you can't remember the way to class, haven’t studied for the Algebra test, and suddenly realize you're still wearing your pj's. You may be a successful fifty-something attorney like my friend, but you wake up feeling like a helpless adolescent, trapped in a maze of strange hallways, irate teachers, and jeering bullies.

My friend isn’t alone in having that reaction to social media. A number of bloggers have written recently about how Twitter feels like a teen party where the popular kids act like you don’t exist. Author Michelle Davidson Argyle wrote in a February post, “It’s like I'm stepping into my high school gym again. The same insecurities come back. The same panic sets in.”  

This isn’t surprising. Social networking sprang from the corridors of colleges and high schools, and entering Cyberia can feel a lot like being the new kid in school.

Everybody seems to know the rules but you.

I especially get this feeling from Facebook: until you learn the ropes, you’re subjected to public humiliation (emails that “Anne likes Earth Girls are Easy” go out to your boss and everybody on your list of potential clients.) Then cyberbullies set nasty traps, posing as your friends: “Mildred (your octogenarian neighbor) just answered five questions about Anne’s sex life. Click here for answers.” If you click, a similar message goes out to five random contacts from your email address book, including the agent you queried last week.

It’s like going to a school run by Lindsay Lohan’s Mean Girls.

Blogging doesn’t feel quite so scary to me. Of the three main areas of social networking—Facebook, Twitter and Blogging—blogging feels the least high-schooly. Maybe because it doesn’t have so many rules. (Or so many bullies—at least not in the part of the blogosphere I visit.)
But having no rules can be uncomfortable too. Most people would at least like a map of the campus. That may be why my “how to blog” posts are popular. (Thanks for all the comments, links and follows!) A lot of people are hungry for information.

I caught a little flak last week from readers who thought I was being high-handed in dictating how people ought to blog. Those people may be dealing with that “new kid in school” feeling and don’t like being told they’re wearing the wrong outfit or should have studied for some test.

So I apologize. I went to three different high schools and I’d never want to inflict that feeling on anybody.

I should clarify a few things. First, I’m “writing about writing. mostly.” If you’re a photographer or a musician or a visual artist, my advice is probably way off. You’ll notice I never post pictures or videos. That’s because 1) I want to focus on verbal content. 2) I’m the world’s worst photographer and don’t even own a camera. 3) I’m a lazy slow blogger. It takes less time for me to write content than surf for public domain visuals.

And as for my advice—I only mean to make suggestions. I’m not the blog police. I’m an authority-questioner myself. I never met a rule I didn’t want to break—or at least poke at a little. In fact, I offered my initial “how to blog” posts as an antidote to sites like “Blog Tyrant” and “Blogging Boot Camp,” where the advice is of the “tough love” variety.

If my tips don’t resonate with you, ignore them. Or better yet, challenge me in the comment thread and start a discussion. Prove me wrong. I love that stuff.

For instance, I’d probably tell you that posting a picture of your dog’s daily dump on your blog wouldn’t be the best idea for an aspiring writer.

But this is the InterWebz, where a blog like that could go as viral as LOL cats. Daily Dog Dump guy could get a book contract and a TV series while I’m still stuck in query hell.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the 21st century writing world, and it does trigger the same fears as a new high school. Maybe you’ve finished a novel or won a contest and you’re feeling pretty good. So you’re ready to leave Middle School, where you’ve been top of the heap, and move into the higher grades of the professional writing world.

And here you are: a nobody newbie in the vast school of writerland. You get no points for finishing that novel or winning that prize. Other people have twelve novels and fifteen prizes. You must ingest a huge amount of information—queries and synopses can feel a lot like algebraic formulas and French verb forms—while simultaneously “building platform,” which means learning the (mostly unwritten) social rules. Without looking needy or nerdy or irritating the cool kids.

And yes, there are cool kids. Neil Gaiman has a million and a half Twitter followers and follows 666 (there’s got to be a story behind that number.) Kevin Spacey has nearly two million and follows 11. You’re never going to get to sit at their lunch table. (But hey, I know a guy who went to high school with Kevin and says he wasn’t all that cool.)

So what do we do?

My advice is to confront the high school fears and let them go. You’re a grown-up now. Think of a new metaphor.

I told my friends who felt bad about being ignored on Twitter not to think of themselves as ostracized high school dorks—but wizards with invisibility cloaks.

The others don’t see you, but you see them. There’s power in that knowledge. You can listen in on conversations without anybody knowing you’re there. (You can learn a lot by following agents’ and editors’ tweets.) Once you’ve picked up enough information to feel secure, take off the cloak and enter the conversation.

Tweets and blogs are simply places to be yourself online—so people can get to know you. You do have to pay attention to things like copyright laws, but if you’re not breaking the law, anything goes. Whatever works for you, works.

Ignore everything else. It’s NOT high school and nobody’s going to give you detention or steal your lunch money. Especially not me.

So what about you, fellow scriveners?

Again, thanks, everybody, for helping me reach 400+ followers! And a special thanks to author Kathleen Valentine whose link to this blog ended up in the Dallas Morning News yesterday!
It turns out this topic was more timely than I realized. Today (March 28) the American Academy of Pediatrics says Facebook causes depression in children. I think that probably goes for our inner children as well.

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,