“Wealth is now defined, at least in part, by the ability to be offline whenever you want” Fernando Gros.
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Blog // Thoughts
November 11, 2013

Is Social Media Bad For Us

A growing number of articles are suggesting we should question the role social media is playing in our lives. Maybe constantly seeking online validation isn’t all it’s made out to be?

The Economist recently ran a provocative article, Facebook Is Bad For You: Get a life!, which suggested regular users of the popular social media platform are prone to be more unhappy with their life and susceptible to greater levels of envy than non-Facebookers, or as they are otherwise known, people who live in the real world.

OK, So FaceBook Does Make Us Stupid After All

I made my feelings about Facebook known a long time ago (Is Facebook Making Us Stupid) and this article confirms some of those feelings. However, I do wonder if there’s an issue the review misses, since people who felt confident enough to buck the Facebook trend might well have had a higher than normal level of self-confidence and satisfaction with their lives. Certainly a lot of the non-Facebookers I know are actually high achievers who saw being on Facebook (or highly active on Facebook) as incompatible with their approach to work and life.

Another Problem

In the studies mentioned in The Economist article Facebook users were said to be miserable or envious because the platform encouraged them to perpetually compare their lives with others. This emotional de-centring can certainly be bad, encouraging us to focus on what we don’t have, rather than enjoying what we do.

There’s a lot of platforms aimed at creative output, not just Twitter and Google+, but also Flickr, SoundCloud, 500Px, Pinterest and Instagram which might also encourage the same kinds of obsessions. For people who want to be known for their creative output, this might lead to a different kinds of discontent.

Because when we post to these platforms, we are often looking for feedback, looking for the buzz that comes from being validated by others. This is not, in and of itself a bad thing, so long as don’t conform everything we do towards the short term game of likes, plusses and retweets.

But, it can be hard to resist judging our work based on its “social” success.

Validation As Fear Deferred

Many artists and inspirational leaders I talk to actually struggle with a very particular kind of fear, what we might be the “fear of being found out.” They worry, sometimes obsessively, about whether they have what it takes to hold their place in the world, to keep doing the kind of work they have been known for, to not let down those who’ve come to rely on their creativity.

It’s not so much as fear of failure as a fear not being able to sustain success.

And, in this realm, it’s tempting, oh so deliciously tempting, to chase validation. To leap on social media as a way to bring a little ego-stroking into every day. The problem is this puts our ego and its needs ahead of the work itself, it tempts us to put stuff out there that is underdeveloped, simply to get some largely ephemeral praise and it encourages us to structure our working life towards short term results rather than patiently building towards bigger goals. There’s no room for practice or patience in an always on social life.

Worst of all, it keeps our fear, and the day to day management of that fear at the centre of everything we do by making us compare our “social” success every day. It’s a cup that never gets filled. Only a long term commitment to mastering our craft lets us fill that cup – and it fills slowly, over many years.

As Kenny Werner put it in Effortless Mastery,

“The taming of the mind, the dissolution of the ego and the letting go of all fears can only evolve through patient practice. There is nothing worth attaining on this or any other planet that doesn’t take practice.”

Responses
Ray K 7 years ago

If you live with the fear of being “found out” it is probably because you are pandering to the lowest common denominator and really aren’t an artist in the sense of what that used to mean before the internet artist became the new form of “creative”. If the work isn’t done for the exploration of an idea or part of the history long conversation that Art is then it is just part of the circle of imitation that is now called inspiration for many. I have never know any artist of stature who was concerned with maintaining a following, most of them were more concerned with their latest work and where it was going.

If anything I would think that sort of mass validation means we are doing work that is at the bottom of the creative pyramid and already imitation. The ones leading the direction of art rarely find validation within the timelines the modern online “arteest” seems to rely on.

    Fernando Gros 7 years ago

    Ray – if the “you” in your opening paragraph is a collective “you,” then I suspect we disagree a little, but I do see the point you are making. Certainly your comment about “the circle of imitation that is now called inspiration” is very well put.

    But, if the “you” is an accusatory one, then I’m afraid you may have misread my post or I simply didn’t do a good job explaining myself.

    Either way, I agree completely with your sense that seeking mass validation in the short term is not the way to make art and, in fact, takes us in the opposite direction, towards imitation and shallowness.

    fernando 7 years ago

    I simply don’t believe you. The fear of being found out, the imposter syndrome, is a widespread and widely documented issue for artists and creatives, and was so long before the internet age and the subsequent rise of social media.

    As for social media itself, from the beginning, creatives have seen it as a way to extend their identity to new audiences in authentic and open ways, hence the term social networking, as an extension of in real life, or in person, networking.

Ray K 7 years ago

Make that anyone then 🙂 In the 40 years of time I have spent with visual artists, who are very successful if measured in public works and museum acquisitions, I have never once been in a conversation that involved “found out” or feeling like a fraud. The subject of how to finance the next piece is common but not how many like or follow them. This whole thing is something very new to the internet. Now it seems that important depends on the number of eyes on it instead of the right ones. It came along with the notion that everyone is an artist I guess, and the best ones are those that are also good salesmen. If you doubt your work or ideas based on how many agree with you stick to being a preacher or politician, that isn’t what art is.

Maybe i didn’t understand the point you are making, To my thinking social media is social not a promotion platform or validation well.

Julie Swan 7 years ago

Thank you for sharing this balanced and thought provoking conversation. I hope you do not mind but I have shared it on my studio updates.

Julie Swan 7 years ago

Thank you Fernando for your well balanced and thought provoking words. I hope you do not mind but I have posted a link to this conversation on my website.

Toni 7 years ago

Just an observation to Ray, but generating a ‘following’ is likely how many creatives anticipate funding their next work, mass media providing a new form of patronage or driving patrons to support a worker.

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