From the Millions yesterday, Emily St. John Mandel writes about Mary MacLane, a lonely, would-be socialite from Montana whose 1902 book “I Await the Devil’s Coming” presaged the more narcissistic parts of the social media era. She points out that what makes MacLane’s self-obsessed writing particularly fascinating is her apparent self-awareness:
[S]he was extremely self-aware, and there are moments when she seems to recognize the corrosive potential of her self-absorption: “If I were not so unceasingly engrossed with my sense of misery and loneliness,” she wrote, “my mind would produce beautiful, wonderful logic. I am a genius — a genius — a genius.” It’s a startlingly candid admission: If I weren’t so engrossed with myself, I could accomplish greater things.
I don’t know about you, but who hasn’t had that feeling every time they log on to Twitter or Facebook. Maybe not the feeling that it’s self-obsession driving you to spend your time with fleeting updates, but a sense that if you just stopped to enjoy a moment with your own eyes instead of futzing with your iPhone you might take away something more meaningful.
When I upgraded my iPhone last year, I gave Carter my old one. It’s deactivated; he can’t make calls or send texts, but he can still use it for games, music, etc. We were off for spring break this week, and went to Shedd Aquarium Thursday. He brought the phone with him, stopping every few feet to take a blurry picture of every single fish in every single tank. At one point I told him to put it away. “Just stop and look at the jellyfish with your own eyes.” He argued with me. I sounded like a nag, as I probably do in this post. It’s just that sometimes all the photos and updates make me tired, and I hope he gets a sense of where to draw the line.
Mandel summed up the way I feel about the whole business in her essay:
I’ve been a sporadic and somewhat ambivalent participant of late. Long periods of time go by when I post almost nothing of my own and only respond to other people’s updates, because what it comes down to, I think, is that either you have an instinct for broadcasting your life on the Internet, or you don’t. It’s not that I find my life uninteresting, it’s just that I’m not at all sure why anyone else would be interested, aside from my mom. I keep a sporadic diary, because I want to remember my life, but I have a hard time imagining why I’d want to display that life for public consumption. I deeply value my privacy.
The privacy bit may be a little hypocritical for me. The longer I’ve been online the more I’ve drawn inward, but I lean more toward the “why anyone else would be interested” part. And this is probably not the best thing to admit now that I make a living in social media,and gear up to go back to work after a week off.