Recently Jonathan Franzen, the American writer, attacked social networking as being the very antithesis of what literature is traditionally supposed to be. His tirade, on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, attracted flak from publishers, authors and the reading public on Twitter and quite wisely, in my opinion, the intelligent writer let the matter die.
Two weeks ago I might have agreed with Franzen wholeheartedly (perhaps with a few additional ideas of my own) but as of this moment I can no longer be sure.
Readers who have been following this column would be aware of my complex yet ambiguous relationship with social networking. While I write about the alienation and the emotional numbness and distance that social networking is likely to create in our lives, I am the first to share my column on Facebook as soon as it appears on the dna website on a Friday morning. In my pieces I rant against the cult of self-promotion. When they appear I share them on the network and through the weekend keep a tab on the friends who have shared the piece, the friends who have liked the piece and the friends who have liked the piece enough to leave a comment as well.
What does this say about me?
Social networking is top-of-the-mind for me this week because I find myself shamelessly promoting myself, sharing posters and still shots of Sulemani Keeda, an independent film I acted in, which is being screened at the MAMI film festival, exhorting anyone and everyone on my friends list to talk about me and the film, and what I have to offer as much as they can, often writing guilt-inducing status updates that would pass off for cyber bullying had I been in high school. Some of my friends have been kind. Others have plain ignored me. Yet my excitement ceases to be curbed.
Doubtless, I will be out of this state after the film is screened and perhaps will write a piece looking back at this time, but currently I can completely sympathize with people who in the past have been the object of my sincere ridicule for shamelessly promoting themselves on Facebook.
Sympathize is not the correct word. Respect is more like it. It takes courage, self-delusion, and severe shock value to be able to promote oneself successfully on the social network. I lack in courage and shock value but I more than make up for it with my self-delusion. But not everyone is like me. People take Facebook seriously. Especially young people. And they have a thousand plus friends and followers. Their posts are liked and shared and they make sure they like each and every shared post. Their comments are topical, apolitical, often funny and seldom sensible.
Maybe my thirties are to be blamed for it or maybe I just missed the bus or maybe I am just not as popular as I would like to be, but for some reason I simply cannot match up to the expected standards of self-promotion on Facebook. Yet, I try hard for an extra like; I try and be clever to elicit more comments.
Sometimes when I get ‘less likes’ than I expected I wonder if I criticize Facebook because it shamelessly magnifies my mediocrity in the social scene. At other times I tell myself that this too shall pass and soon I will have nothing to sell and the world to complain about.