The Ghost of Social Media’s Past, Present, . . . Future?

Who remembers Xanga?

I first registered for one sometime in middle school (we got dial-up when I was in the sixth or seventh grade). I never had a Myspace account – never took those very particular Myspace selfies (camera held up, pointing down at my face, my eyes looking away, my hair stick-straight, bangs hanging not-so-casually over one of my eyes). Xanga, though – that’s what I was all about.

I only had about three friends on the site, one being my sister. To those who don’t know, Xanga, was essentially a blog, though I never wrote anything of significance on it. Mostly I just changed my theme every week and posted “icons” (the ancestor of the now popular gifs). The most common ones I posted were of Angry Bunny quotes. Yeah, remember these?:

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It was the Tumblr of the past – the perfect outlet for a wannabe-angsty preteen like me.

I made friends, too. Like, two whole friends. I remember one in particular. Her theme was all black with a few stars in the background. She posted icons, too, but mostly of All-American Rejects lyrics. I found her when she commented on one of my posts once. It surprised and thrilled me all at once that someone I didn’t know was even looking at my site – as though it filled some longing I didn’t even know I had. I had to return the favor.

It made me nervous to go over to her site and leave a comment. I felt like I was breaking the rules. Teachers at school were constantly telling us to not communicate with people we didn’t know online. Predators, and such. I had a feeling this girl was not a predator, though. I thought she must be a girl just like me, seeking attention somewhere other than school, where we received none.

She would continue to comment on my posts for a while, but somewhere along the way I think I messed it up. You see, I got too clingy. I would comment on just about every single one of her posts. It probably got to be too much for her. She stopped commenting on mine. Anonymous rejection was a weird and not entirely new sensation.

Like every single person ever, I also had AIM account. I would sit online “doing homework” and waiting for one of my four friends to come online. It always seemed to take them forever to respond to me, like they were always talking to at least five other people at the same time. Whenever they said, “brb,” I couldn’t just resume whatever else I was doing. I would wait for them to come back, trying to concentrate on whatever I was reading, but glancing up at my screen every five seconds. Then they would come back and say, “sry, g2g,” and I would be crushed.

I waited until I was in high school to get a Facebook – when I was actually making friends. Back then, that was what it was all about – your friend count. Only now do I realize how stupid it was to friend people from middle school who I hated, just because I wanted to see my number of friends go up. Today, when the pop up I unfriend them, but I keep encountering new ones I didn’t even know I had with every passing day.

All the other forms of social media now – Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Youtube – it’s all about wanting the same affirmation. It’s the hope that people will like this or that photo, status, comment, etc. Social media is a freaking career now. Specialists are supposed to know how to gain the most amount of followers and promote the most amount of interaction with their audience on any given day. Clickbait is rampant. Every video on Youtube seems to be a challenge video because they get the most views for some reason. The number of views or followers you get is somehow tied to your value and the worth of your creativity.

The world that we live in is so strange. Every day on the internet we see mob mentality turned virtual. It’s changed how political campaigns are run, how companies do business, how we share news. It’s playing with the idea that not only are ideas worth sharing, but that if we are not sharing, somehow we are not participating correctly.

I think back to a simpler time, when I could play with my American Girl Doll or do a my Madeline puzzle or read a book for hours at a time and be content. I wasn’t wondering what my friends were doing or worrying about sharing what I was up to with the world. The experiences from my childhood only live in my memories and some pictures taken on disposable cameras – pictures I took for me alone.

Some people might say that the internet has made the world smaller and more connected, but it has made the world more complicated, too. Say you have this amazing experience one day – what is its value if you don’t share it – if you don’t post it to your timeline, tweet it out, blog it? It’s difficult to even look at a sunset without thinking about sharing it.

So which is better – now vs. then?

Personally, my world seemed smaller back then than it does now. I may be older and more educated (and perhaps that has something to do with how daunting the world seems to me), but how would I feel if I didn’t have this constant reminder that my former classmates are doing this or that, that my friends have time to post pictures on Facebook but they have yet to text me back, or that another fifteen people have popped up on my newsfeed saying they are engaged or got married this weekend? Sometimes, I feel more ousted than connected. My achievements seem smaller when I know that this or that person has already been there, done that.

I guess I am still that wannabe-angsty-preteen trapped in a 23-year-old’s body. Still compelled to share. Still seeking validity.

Is this how it’s going to be from now on? I worry that my favorite pictures will only be the ones that the most people liked or that the only projects worthy of spending my time on are the ones that the most amount of people are going to want to see.

But worth does not reside in going viral or having the most friends or followers. Whether or not you are still reading this post, does not tell me whether or not its contents were worth sharing or not. Maybe sharing my thoughts every week won’t change the world, or let alone my own life. But if that’s so, why am I so compelled to keep doing it?

And I think that maybe it’s because value does not reside in how many people see what you share and how many people like it. It resides in the potential of a having a shared experience. These “social mediums” can be useful tools for business and self-promotion, yes, but let’s think about how they started – simply, as means of expression and the opportunity to make a connection even while you sit alone in your room.

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