Social Media Icons

I am still trying to wrap my head around social media, working to figure out the most comfortable combination, fit, level of involvement, boundaries. I use the word “comfortable” deliberately. For writers or anyone else for whom social media is part personal and part professional, the ever increasing social media options—from Twitter to LinkedIn, Goodreads to Google+—can very quickly be a source of discomfort at the same time that they are useful and informative and oh so much fun. This discomfort is especially keen for someone who is quickly overwhelmed by crowds and noise and competing distractions, virtual or otherwise.

Rest assured, this is not a whine about technology. On a daily basis, I am amazed by and appreciative of 21st century options that my 19-year-old son takes for granted. Just this morning, I realized through a Facebook status by a Milwaukee writer whom I first met through blogging, that not only did our sons share many years together in a local children’s theater company, but our husbands have known each other for 25 years. Our “circles” intersect in a Venn diagram illuminated by social media, making face-to-face interactions even more meaningful.

So my problem is not with social media. It’s with how I use it. Until now, my default position has been one of “opt out,” to borrow a marketing term:

“Opt in” gives communication control to the customer, allowing him to check a box if he wants to be contacted by a company. If he doesn’t check the box, he’ll never hear a thing, even from a company he’s already doing business with. The opt-out system, however, acts as a “tacit yes.” It lets customers decide not to receive further communications; but until the customer explicitly requests a cessation of contact, a marketer can bombard her indefinitely.

It’s time for me to switch from the opt-out “tacit yes” mode to “opt in,” checking only those boxes that work best for me.

A few weeks ago, I closed my Twitter account, not because of anything inherently wrong with Twitter, but because it gave me very little satisfaction. Have I regretted the decision? Not for a moment. My personality is such that rapid-fire, 140-character conversations make my head spin, and because I wasn’t using Twitter for the back-and-forth, real-time engagement from which so many other people do get satisfaction, I felt uneasy using the platform simply to give myself shout outs. The only thing I miss is being able to re-tweet friends’ and colleagues’ work; however, I find I can do that more comfortably on Facebook and blogs (and now, once I learn to use it, Google+).

There’s that word again: comfortable. Not everything in life is comfortable! you might be thinking. Who does she think she is, assuming that life should be comfortable?

Well, here’s the thing: For most of my life—and I’m guessing that many of you have had the same experience—I’ve paid far too little attention to my own comfort level, especially inner comfort. The result is that I’m only now learning to trust my emotions, my internal barometer. More often than I’d realized, discomfort is a valuable source of information, an important consideration for decisions, direction, drive.

Yes, discomfort is also sometimes a thing to work through, to overcome. “Just do it!” we are told. But I am realizing that I already have a lot of practice with that. When I want to, I can tell my discomfort to wait while I speak to groups of people or pack my days full of more activities than I’d normally prefer or say “yes” to something to which I’d rather say “no.” When I need to, I can push past discomfort to work for goals and causes that are important, to get to know and make valuable connections with more people, to be more rather than less involved with the social side of life, even while, at the same time, I wish I were curled up at home with a book.

What many of us (writers, in particular, maybe, and introverts for sure) need more practice with is not ignoring discomfort, but listening to it.

Is your default mode opt out? Or opt in?