Since I started using social media I have realised I have this latent but insistent craving for an audience – does everyone else have this or is it unique to me? It drives me to publish urgently on Twitter and Instagram. In fact it’s so urgent I often broadcast spelling mistakes and miss out words. There is a thrill of expectation when I release a post that it could be loved (and by extension I could be loved) – it could be the best post ever – important people might like it – it could go viral – it could make me famous! There is a special kind of frenzy that goes with social media posting, a sort of private hoorah – you might have heard it in your own head too.

On the other hand when you look at your post later in the cool light of day you spot the spelling mistakes or the missing words and links that are broken and maybe the whole idea/ video/ photo that is not so amazing or urgent after all.

The speed and immediacy of publishing on social media is what gives it that distinctive edge. It has an informality, where it becomes like texting with a mate only potentially with hundreds of people. This is the thrill that drives us to take part and draws us into writing things we might not write in any other context. It feels something like keeping a parrot on your shoulder that keeps saying “Seize the moment! Say it now! Send it now! Send it before it’s too late! Think of the fame! Think of your popularity!”

This seems to be the core power of social media, one of several hooks that brings you back to it like an addict to their supplier. Another hook is the feeling of missing out if you don’t check Twitter/ Facebook/ Instagram several times a week/ day/ hour/ minute – depending on the seriousness of your addiction. Have I missed anything? Has anything important happened? Do they still need me?

Then there’s the gamification, the score, the number of followers or re-posts. You pretend you are not really interested but you notice if it stops increasing or goes down and you make sure to rectify it at your earliest opportunity. And of course the SocMed brands feed all this by sending you notifications and reminders of every single glance, every tiny reaction that they can log to each of your messages. In this way you carry an (imaginary) audience with you at every step. How big is the potential audience in your head compared to the number of people who are really following or reacting to you?

There is constant pressure to keep up with any variety of social media, to follow it, to join in with it and to feed it. It’s like the Tamagotchi, it fixes itself like a leech to your consciousness and only lets go when it is not fed and starts to starve to death (hysterical and melodramatic at every turn). I think that like any addiction it encourages us to go further, to try harder, to go beyond our comfort zone and above all to stay on it. I notice that Apple devices now keep you updated with exactly how much time you spend each week playing with your gadgets so at least now we can measure the extent of our addiction.

So that’s one more skill we have to add to our set, we need to be wary of the stealthy ways this stuff keeps us hooked and develop the skill of knowing how to use Facebook et al while not becoming a complete SocMed junkie.

In my last Artists Space post I look at becoming more professional with social media by approaching it from the point of view of a marketeer.

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash