On connection and authenticity on the modern web

I've quit social media numerous times over the last decade. But I've recently been pulled back in.

So why do I keep coming back?

Other than the fact I lack in moral fiber...

These days crapping on technology is fashionable. We like to focus only on the negative. Everyone's angry and toxic. Fake news runs amuck. Our FOMO means we never have a moment's peace or contentment.

But we forget to give credit where credit is due, which means acknowledging that the internet and social networks do still deliver good, in the opportunity to connect with others.

I'm still naive that I can recapture the wonder that originally attracted me to the internet. That feeling of genuine connection with people you likely wouldn't have met otherwise. Is it still possible in 2021? Sure.  Is it harder to do so? It sure feels that way.

A friend and I recently had a conversation about authenticity (or lack thereof) on the internet. Our initial gripe centered around how so much content feels like a copy of a copy of a copy. It's as if most people online ran over to Google and searched for what works on the internet and followed the advice to the letter.

For an example, look at how many YouTube videos have unnecessary quick cuts, as if a single second of imperfection will kill the video. And hey, maybe it will. Maybe the data support the paranoia.

Find a product you're interested in buying and watch some video reviews and keep track of how much information is presented in the same way. How many of these reviewers reach the same exact conclusions? Maybe they reach the same conclusions because the conclusions are objectively true. Or maybe all the creators are following the same script.

Anyone interacting with me anywhere other than this blog has likely heard me rant about the bad storytelling on LinkedIn. I apologize for repeating myself yet again, but the problem irks me to the point that I wonder if I should even browse through LinkedIn for worthwhile content when the majority of what I see is formulaic and unhelpful. But still, I believe in the opportunity to connect, so I stay. I do have to remember that I have gotten at least one job via the site.

With the good comes the bad, so we must remember: Everything in life has a cost, and fitting in is no different.

No one should be a lone wolf, if for no other reason than that wolves are social creatures who understand the value of belonging to a pack. At the same time, no one should be the kind of person who does anything to fit in. Being human is an art, and that art includes finding the balance between fitting in and being an individual. This balance is what gives us our authenticity. This balance says: You know how to fit in, but you also know when it's time to stand alone.

Sometimes this art can be tough to accomplish online, when likes and follower counts allow you to measure how liked you are at any moment. Chances are you don't have comparable metrics for your offline interactions.

Does our online content have any value without the metrics to back it up? Wow, that feels like an online existential crisis waiting to happen.

Whether we want to admit it or not, we put ourselves out there for a reason. We want validation of some sort from the online communities that we choose. Likes. Follows. Retweets. Recognition from a more successful person with more status. Choose your metric.

We can play it cool and pretend we don't care, but if that were the case, we would keep our work and thoughts to ourselves for no one else to discover and consider. In hopes of being authentic, I don't want to fake humility. There is a certain selfishness that comes with writing and putting your thoughts into the ether to see what—if anything—happens as a result.

I guess I need to think about the metrics I'll choose to measure my success.

Tags: #socialmedia #authenticity