Exploring new worlds
In the beginning, my interactions with computers were uncomplicated. As a self-identified introvert (even at age 7 or 8), I enjoyed entertaining myself with games rented from the library. I’d spend hours exploring Europe with Madeleine:
Madeleine’s international adventures (courtesy of Youtube.org)
I loved this virtual travel opportunity- experiencing animated versions of countries I’d never been to, hearing accents I’d never heard in my life. Madeleine and I had a fun, simple relationship. We were united by a common purpose- to find the thief, and to right the story’s wrong, and we appreciated each other as partners in the fight for justice.
By the time high school rolled around, my use of computers became rather more complicated, and whether or not I felt comfortable having an online presence became a contentious subject.
Being on Facebook wasn’t half as fun as traversing Europe with a storybook character. I obsessively censored and re-censored pictures of me, risking friendships when this censorship process required I be untagged in a friend’s well-intended post, and constantly pursued that elusive ideal of a “cool” status update.
Off-line I am quite passionate about various social issues, global warming, politics. Needless to say, I never participated in debates about these issues on Facebook. What was the point? Your post was sure to offend someone, and what’s more, you would never know if your words might monumentally change what someone thought of you. It was this fear that paralyzed me into silence. Whenever I got up the nerve to break my silence, I immediately regretted it.
Over the years, I realized my self-esteem was far too tied to my Facebook identity- my intellectual self-image became defined by my hesitancy to vocalize my values and opinions online, and my physical self-image became dependent on a handful of pictures and likes. Whatever natural tendency I had to being social anxious surfaced with the help of this online tool, a trend experienced by other users as well, according to Marissa Maldonado:
But why did I care so much that my pictures met some subjective definition of hotness? Why was I so concerned that my words might offend?
Freshman year of college gave me a great justification to finally delete my account. After a few weeks of judging people I had just met by their profile pictures and soon-to-be-outdated high school personas, I decided the best way to explore this new world was through real, face-to-face interactions. Add to that a mild case of being stalked, a predicament that increased my all-too-not-virtual discomfort. Incidentally, it turns out cyber stalkers are approximately six times more likely to obsessively pursue relationships, according to this article by Amy Lyndon et al:
Not wanting to prove this statistic true, I left Facebook forever (or so I thought), and immediately felt liberated. I mean, who needs an online persona? I enthusiastically promised my friends I’d email them pictures throughout the summer, and I was happy to know the people I chose to share my with would not judge me as harshly as I’d assumed the majority of my Facebook “friends” had.
Engaging with the Real World
Up to now, I didn’t understand why anyone beyond my closest friends would care about my words or pictures, and I didn’t know why I should care about theirs. I didn’t understand why people felt the need to share so much of their lives publicly.
And then I interned at an organization working for social change within a socioeconomic and racial population that receives essentially no press time on their own terms, and certainly no positive media attention. With a minimal publicity budget, social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter are this organization’s primary means of generating awareness and support for their work. For a population severely underrepresented in national media, Facebook and Twitter are important tools for building grassroots movements, and for educating an oppressed population about what they can do to change the local and national status quo.
In other words, I saw social impact, and social inspiration, in action.
But still, why does anyone need to see my pictures? I am not a minority, and I do not run a social change organization. Well, as my boss said (paraphrased here for privacy reasons), there are a lot of sad things in the world- gun violence, drugs, sex trafficking, police homicide, etc.- and it’s great to be reminded daily through others’ Facebook posts of the joys of living. Entrenched in a community racked by such problems, I sincerely hope my joyful posts served this purpose for him.
I’d like to point out another great example of social media as a podium for inspirational change- Humans of New York, otherwise known as HONY. Here is proof that Facebook and other forms of social media can foster empathy and compassion between people living in vastly different regions of the world.
Check out their website here: http://www.humansofnewyork.com
Needless to say, I’ve returned to social media with a vengeance. But this time I have a strategy and a purpose. My strategy? To use Facebook and Twitter as authentic sources of news authored by minority populations. My purpose? When necessary, to contradict mainstream news and express my values and opinions.
You can never know what affect your words and pictures will have, but I have come to realize what an incredible tool the digital world can be for amplifying any inspirational ripple you choose to initiate.
From an introverted perspective, it may take some time and thought to come to terms with putting your virtual self in the public spotlight. But be sure that when you do, it adds to, rather than subtracts from, the positive mark you decide to make on this world, real and virtual.
Creative Wonders. “90s Children’s Computer Games: Madeline’s European Adventures (1/6).” YouTube. YouTube, n.d. Web. 14 Sept. 2014.
HONY Book Cover. Digital image. Http://theambershow.net. N.p., 2013. Web. 14 Sept. 2014. <http://theambershow.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/hony-book-cover.jpg>.
“Humans of New York.” Humans of New York. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Sept. 2014.
Lyndon, Amy, Jennifer Bonds-Raacke, and Alyssa D. Cratty. “College Students’ Facebook Stalking of Ex-Partners.” Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. Publishers. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 6 July 2011. Web. 14 Sept. 2014.
Maldonado, Marissa. “The Anxiety of Facebook.” (2014): n. pag. Psych Central. Web. 14 Sept. 2014. <http://psychcentral.com/lib/the-anxiety-of-facebook/00019448>.
Ripple effect. Digital image. Thewalkyourtalkcoach.com. N.p., 2014. Web. 14 Sept. 2014. <http://www.thewalkyourtalkcoach.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/feba5def79608d9c289c04365e54b294.jpg>.