McGinnis: Social media anxietyWritten by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
I stare blankly at my smartphone. At moments like this, I’m certain it actually is smarter than I am. I haven’t said anything on Facebook or Twitter for a few hours now. I need to add a comment, joke, clever observation or link for my followers to visit. I want to say something that will add a smile to their day, something they can acknowledge with a like, comment or — Lord willing — that cherished repost or retweet.
I want to post something good. Funny. No, more than funny — brilliantly funny. I want to post something that will go down in the annals of social media. A note that, after the inevitable Internet Hall of Fame is built, will be enshrined on a plaque somewhere. Fans of wit or wisdom will gather around to speak of it in hushed tones, wondering of its origin. “He went by the handle ‘jeffmac813.’ No one knows what inspired this seminal work. We only know it has enriched the lives of generations.”
Yet a blank screen stares at me, and I am powerless before it. I can’t think of anything to write — at least anything that people would actually want to read. I am paralyzed between the desire to share a thought and the lack of any thought to share. You often hear about writer’s block, that bane of the creative. If this particular lack of movement has a term, it would be akin to SMA — Social Media Anxiety. And I have suffered from it for a long, long time.
It wasn’t always like this. Back when I first began to dip my toe into the waters of Friendster, MySpace and their now-obsolete brethren, social media was a bit of a mystery. In those early days, the platforms just seemed like a fun and harmless way of keeping in touch with my pals and occasionally making new ones.
As someone who clings to people I care about like a barnacle, it was a great way of maintaining connections to people who had long since departed Northwest Ohio.
I didn’t put much thought into what I was posting at that point — my comments were the usual “feeling glum” or “just ate at so-and-so” that everyone writes. But somewhere along the way, I began noticing the kind of users and status updates that I loved reading, and longed to be more like them. These were the individuals using these platforms not just to exchange simple observations, but as a creative outlet.
People like my friend Jessica Joy (@J2thaJOY), whose off-center thoughts on the universe never cease to make me smile. (“If Jesus doesn’t sing on your album, why are you thanking him for your Grammy?”) Comedians whose work I’ve always admired, like Albert Brooks (@AlbertBrooks) and Steve Martin (@SteveMartinToGo), who find a way to be brilliant and funny even when confined to 140 characters. New friends like the remarkable Babsbat (@BabsBat), a cos-player from Britain whose remarkable costume work is surpassed only by her blindingly wonderful wit.
These kinds of writers inspired me to up my game. To use Facebook, Twitter and their ilk as a forum not only for miscellaneous thoughts on the events of the day, but to contribute a smile or two to the people who cared enough to follow me. And as time has gone on and my number of friends has grown, it’s an obligation I take increasingly — some would say worryingly — seriously.
No, for real. I work almost as hard on my Twitter and Facebook updates as I do on most any other form of writing I do, and I take just as much joy in a job well done. When I get a beep from my phone notifying me that someone commented or replied to something I posted, my heart glows a bit. If someone who I admire has “liked” one of my lines, I feel a surge of pride. Seriously, it’s insane.
I’ve even started signing up for new websites, just so I don’t get left behind. I signed up for Vine even though I have never had any interest in filming videos. I signed up for Instagram, though I loathe having my picture taken in general. Seriously, look at me. I know a shot of my mug accompanies this column. Look at it — tell me I don’t have a face for radio.
And yet, I keep going. I try to learn the new obsessions, I make new jokes, I suffer through those paralyzing bouts of SMA. I am an addict, I admit it. But in my mind, it’s all worth it. Because unlike most addictions, which are purely selfish in nature, the end result of this one brings a sliver or two of joy into the lives of people I care about. And if I can do that, it’s worth every agonizing second spent staring at a blank smartphone screen.
@jeffmac813. Let me know how I’m doing, would you?
Jeff McGinnis is pop culture editor of Toledo Free Press. He can be reached at PopGoesJeff@gmail.com or on Twitter at @jeffmac813.