A Vote of No: Social Media and Sacrifices

Regular users of social media networks will no doubt have noticed – if their friends lists are anything like mine – that politics is again becoming a very public sport. I raised some concerns last year about the extent to which social networking sites were turning into moral and ideological crusades when elections came along. Yesterday, a referendum was held on whether to adopt the ‘Alternative Vote’ system, and the same tactics were out in force again.

I voted X today. [= I want you to think I’m great]

[If you want to be great like me:] You must vote X too.

And then the breach of personal sovereignty:

Go on! Tell me how you voted!

It’s turning into an adversarial intimidation pit.

One of the main reasons why people choose to announce their vote is the fashionable image of themselves they think it demonstrates to all of their friends at once. There’s a scramble for the peer points at stake, and a desire to be judged favourably by the fashionista, Twitterati, ad nauseum.

Instructing others on how their private vote should be cast,  on the other hand, and asking others to disclose their private politics are both considerably more problematic because this stretches curiosity to a breaking point where it’s now acceptable to ask and where judgement is being publicly cast.

  • Event: The trial of individual moral fibre.
  • When: 5th May.
  • Who: All baying support welcomed.

It’s now acceptable to ask. Since when did social media make this an automatic rite of passage? No – I’m not obliged to tell you how I voted just because you’ve told me. You chose to tell me. This sort of thing did not happen before, but social media (or selfish media, as we might label it) has propagated it. It’s like a giant playground out there.

I’m going to borrow a friend’s words. In one place, he says, “It scares me to think that some people are even thinking of voting No”. We are all entitled to our opinions – fair enough – but public statements like this make a point of outright rigidity; if you are planning to vote ‘No’, the reader and I will not get along. In another place, he adds “Voted yes. You should too. I’ll be your friend if you do”. There’s a playfulness to this, of course, but the wider point is: if there was no means of swapping all this information, and if the privacy of the polling booth and personal politics were allowed to remain sacrosanct, would we have all this stupid animosity?

A wry smile. Last year, it was Liberal Democrat voters who soared in this public moral crusade and popularity contest, and look what happened there. Are you quite as proud now? I am proud – that I do not judge others based on political beliefs; but if others would seek to judge me based on mine then perhaps I would rather not know them at all.

The Fate of LiveJournal

LiveJournal

I’ve recently had the good fortune to work in conjunction with the fantastic Al Allday for the first time in over a decade. Al, whose blog is a must-read, recently considered LiveJournal and what has caused its downfall, which has prompted me – a migrated LJ user – to consider the same. Al stresses the value of intimacy and community that came with LiveJournal, an early platform for personal diurnals, and puts the blame for this decline at the feet of social media and the changes in behaviour that have come with it.

Times (and personal voices) are now less about substance and more about soundbytes. Image is everything. Personal truth and insularity cede to a culture of headlines, achievement, boldness over subtlety, and general ephemera. For these reasons, we are not using social media to get to know people and small groups intimately as before, but instead showing a thumbprint of ourselves – often a polished and disingenuous one – to the masses.

I find myself with a few tangential (though complementary) thoughts. I began LiveJournaling in 2003, and migrated to WordPress in 2009. LiveJournal was my very first open template, and the network for my first close community. I wrote my heart out. For all the difficulties I had, people could learn a great deal about me through following a page which demonstrated my lightest and darkest corners. Now, as Al notes, that kind of writing and community seems an alien idea. It’s been replaced, and we’ve moved on. (Our comment discussion on the blog post is itself quite revealing).

But here’s the question. If Facebook did not exist, would the same community of LiveJournallers I grew to know and love still exist with the same vigour? Social media expanded in force and instigated changes, not least in the self-fashioning of ourselves online. There’s no escaping that. I’m just trying to imagine the factors that may have affected the craft of journalling  had this particular dirty footprint not landed.

Al notes that he learnt how to blog on LiveJournal. That’s quite a loaded infinitive. I learnt how to communicate there, and how to build bonds. It encouraged me to be open and raw in a way that I cannot contemplate again. But if anything, my writing deteriorated. Even before I joined Facebook, my LiveJournal activity ended up becoming strained as I struggled to contort private matters into public writing.

I started journalling at a loaded time, and my introspection peaked with a succession of transitory experiences: new beginnings, a first true social crowd, university, and so forth. As I was growing older, though, my natural prerogative was moving away from the exposed open-book to a more private introversion. In that vein, the value that had been placed on my daily activities and thoughts started to become embarrassing. If anything, the advent of social media only highlighted this more. LiveJournal seemed an even more elaborate and verbose brand of narcissism.

Why is the diurnal of little me important in any way? It isn’t. Social media may have pushed me off the LiveJournal cliff before I could jump, but it did not single-handedly lead me to the edge.

I attribute LiveJournal as being the right portal for a particular stage of life – roughly 18-22. Is it not, then, that some of us either grow out of personal musing, or grow away from it? Perhaps, as I suggested to Al: when that age of late teens and early twenty-somethings eventually grew up, we felt the hedonism of our creativity slip us by. Experiences are somehow not as new and unique and crystalline the second, third or nth time around.

Let’s face it. LiveJournal is still alive, and the nostalgic appeal still burns. But that’s it: nostalgia. It’s a memory of past freedom, liberty, youth, expression. Social media alone did not rip this from us – time’s winged chariot did.

It’s still alive, and yet we choose not to use it. Both Al and myself maintain blogs that encompass a lot of professional pride. If we truly wanted to, one suspects, we would make time for LiveJournal. For whatever reason, that isn’t happening. I have found my locus here. I have learnt how to marry public and private writing, and developed a more purposeful writing style. LiveJournal, meanwhile, is still out there. It hasn’t been totally replaced as a writing entity – just as a personal priority. Social media cannot take the blame for that.

Perhaps it is life’s lessons – being stung for openness – that drives an introspective LiveJournaller away to something else. And this is it. I cannot help but think that too much of one thing often drives us into the hands of its opposite. Too much liberty, openness and confession drives us to a more private place. And yet I don’t see that there has to be anything wrong with that, nor reasons sought for it.

Hence, I’m not disagreeing with Al’s assessment at all, nor defending the denegration caused by the expansion of social media. I’m just suggesting that the impact of social media masks a number of complex transitory issues, notably the interception of the age-range at which the height of our introspection and curiosities occurs with the most suitable of available networking portals at the time. Now that we all have a wider choice, we choose to adhere to a (more false) form of public, or a more private existence. That’s growing up, its perils and its pitfalls. The LiveJournal cliff was clearly one of the latter.

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8 thoughts on “A Vote of No: Social Media and Sacrifices

  1. Absolutely fascinating. Really interesting that you say that LiveJournal is mostly used by 18-22 year olds…I’m one of the few survivors on there, and although I started my LJ in 2003 age 15, it only really got into gear in 2007, when, yep, I was 18. Unfortunately that corresponded with the rise of Facebook so at the same time my posts increased, everyone else’s began to disappear.

    I’m 22 now and still update regularly all the time. I intend for it to last forever, but looking at other friends and how their posts have dried up in recent years, maybe the same will happen. I can’t imagine it, but I can’t imagine what my life will be like, so there’s no way of predicting. But right now I simply can’t replace LJ with Facebook. I can’t sum up all my feelings and emotions in one throwaway status update, which eventually disappears off the page. I want long, in-depth entries that I can look back on in years to come, and let myself be transportd back to those times. Every day is precious to me, and deserves a home where it can live forever.

    • Hey Billy 🙂 Much has been said already in reply to your own reflective piece on this, but I left one or two things to address here.

      I really admire the time you have for LiveJournal and the virtuous cycle of lustre for life that sustains both it and you. There’s no reason why it should not continue for you. It’s a shame in a way that you have caught up to the age when many of us were contributing at our peak, only for so many to have vacated the room.

      So then, what changes at 22, I sense you worrying? An awful lot. Work is a big issue. Relationships can be an issue. What if you meet somebody who has issues with you describing your time together, or who consumes a lot of your time? This is where decisions regarding journalling habits become more difficult. Priorities necessarily change. When everything starts becoming convoluted, sometimes attitudes towards writing necessarily change as well.

      Certainly, let me not predict anything different for you than what you wish for yourself. I write more of my life between the lines here than may be evident, and perhaps it is that which is developing the identity I am happy with, but you set a benchmark for how writing spurs on an individual, and long may your prolificity continue. 🙂 Once again, I’d really like to thank you for reading now that I am a step further than a ‘friends-page’ click away.

  2. Thank you.

    This is really one of your best posts – so incredibly thoughtful and insightful. A sit-down dinner to my takeaway thoughts.

    Yes, I think we were “there at the right time” being 18-22 and being part of Livejournal’s golden age. Sure, I’m inclined to re-live those memories with rose tinted glasses these days, but there was something very special about that time. I shared things back then I would never share today — and I shared them with people who were in their twenties and thirties, too.

    LJ exposed me to people who weren’t my own age for the first time. Being 19 and being able to talk to someone who knew everything about me, saying “I think I’ve fallen in love for the first time, what do I do” really helped… but that was a long time ago. I like to think now I’m that old guy giving advice 😉

    Thank you, as always, for your ongoing friendship. It’s greatly appreciated.

    • And thanks to you, my friend. Not for the first time, this post is indebted to you. I’ve mentioned you quite frequently across the life span of this blog because I think you are an exemplary influence and because you spur me on to reach the standard of addictive writing that you produce. I know how thin your time is, and how, as a professional writer, you inadvertently become a critic of other writing. So to have your comments, praise and support means a great deal.

      At the height of this transitory period, I needed LiveJournal, desperately. I struggled so much during long periods in Bristol that I needed my community bonds not only to be strong in themselves, but to make up for the social opportunities (and all the disappointments enclosed) that I was losing. Perhaps, if I struggle with the quality of my writing back then, it is because my mind was never tidy. The journal was like an intense specialist project where I would often get lost in a zone, and sometimes say things that only made sense to me then.

      And what I might have added to this piece was how using LiveJournal may have inflected the way I lived. You and I never bonded through LiveJournal particularly, but being able to meet in Bristol at this ‘heightened’ time surely meant that I got to grow to know you better – in a way that would not really have happened at school and might not have happened now. Perhaps, then, our LJ stories differ in more ways than I thought. But I owe it, at its ‘golden age’, for making friendships grow that would never have done so in any other way.

      And thanks for yours, my friend. It is an honour.

  3. As a dedicated reader, I have struggled with this entry’s second half in a way that I usually do not with your pieces. I offer advance apologies if I have let you down by feeling this way. The tone seems to fluctuate between tentative (‘I’m just trying to imagine the factors that may have affected…’) and assertive (‘Let’s face it’), and the perspective veers between appealing personal exploration and broader spokesmanship. At any given point, I can’t tell whether the ‘we’ and ‘us’ to whom you refer are you and Al, all lapsed LJers or everyone. I also find myself confused by the italics, and the bold, and the bold italics: unless these variances are purely aesthetic, I’m unsure how they differ. I’m also not sure how well they suit your writing, with which I have so often connected by finding my own emphases, not having them pointed out. 🙂

    While people who use LiveJournal less than before are not obliged to seek the reasons why, they may find it enlightening to do so. I have long believed that not only is ‘moving on’ a potentially dangerous cliché, it is not the same as moving away, and it can be worthwhile to contemplate the difference in one’s own departures. Similarly, your entry mentions four different kinds of growing, each of which has its own nuance and may apply to an LJ emigrant where the other three do not. Then again, a departure from LJ may be less about growth and more about change, which is not necessarily so progressive.

    Adding to what you have said, I would suggest that the waning of LiveJournal has a chicken and egg aspect to it, whereby an LJer might think: if my LJ Friends aren’t around as much, for me to listen to and to listen to me, then why should I remain active? I know that the LJ comments you garnered were important to you, and wonder if a change in the way you received (or perceived) comments was responsible in any part for your arrival at the LiveJournal cliff. Ultimately we cannot know or understand why any individual stops using LiveJournal unless they have the courtesy to say goodbye, and it is the fact that so many don’t that gives rise to frustration. Personally, I continue to wonder whether, when it comes to blogging, one ‘white space’ really is that different from any other.

    • Thank you, dear David. It has been a fruitful discussion across a few different channels. It feels like this could become a thesis in itself (or part of one) given all the different correlatives and variables.

      You are right, of course. This is an entry that is imperfect in how it seeks to formulate a response to Al that expresses similar opinion and accounts for similar journeys, while wanting to extend it with a personal voice, and yet knowing that the readership could include at least one dedicated LJer. Without doubt, you were always an exception to the sense of ‘posthumousness’ expressed here, and I desperately hoped not to taint the value of what LJ has given either of us. Sometimes, saying something imperfectly allows you to say it so much better, or even just to say it at all.

      Perhaps I did fall for the chicken and egg scenario that you describe, or for a wish for professionalism, or just wanting to feel less responsible for what appeared on a friends-page. Even so, despite not detailing all the reasons for the migration here, it’s very pleasing to me that we are still dedicated readers of the other across the blogging pond.

      Certainly, you are right that ‘growing up’ and ‘moving on’ are not clear-cut. Taken literally, yes, we have grown up in the year tally, and many have indeed moved on: to Facebook, Twitter, more physical social lives, or whatever cause they have to write less in a community setting. Some will claim to be just as fulfilled (or more so) by their lives today. I’m not sure I’m with them.

      I have not grown up yet [I, for one, do not collect Tupperware], but my ideas have changed and what I choose to share has changed. My writing has developed here and I’m in a happier place with that. Building a new blog from scratch with no expectations of community was surprisingly liberating, and it is a growing chapter in a blogging history, which, largely thanks to you, feels as though it has much to be proud of.

      Thank you, as always, my friend, for everything.

  4. Pingback: Media Revolutions and “Friends” « Writing Privacy

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