hi everyone! gah, i have so many posts i want to write and really just haven’t figured out a good organizational method yet of how to get to them…i want to talk about my knitting background and some of my earliest projects as well as all the things i’m working on now. but, things keep coming up that also seem worthy of some thought and conversation that interrupt those plans. i think the answer is probably writing more often, which is always a goal of mine anyway, so maybe i could begin by carving out protected time each few days to do so. sounds like a good new year’s resolution.
ANYWAY, i have a fairly interesting and relevant topic to cover today–it’s one i’ve grappled with since i began blogging years ago, and a few things have dovetailed lately that i think provide enough fodder for an entire (long) post. i’m interested to hear what you guys think about it! my question for all of you is, how do you remain authentic in a highly digitized society?
let me expand a bit, as this is a gigantic topic, one of the biggest questions/issues of our time, i believe. there is a massive cultural transformation occurring around the world, particularly developed nations, with our ever increasing access to technology and social media. the way we conduct ourselves, the way we meet, interact, connect, and stay current and intimate has completely evolved. there are many ways in which the ease of access to each others’ lives is wonderful! i love to see what my family and friends are doing on a regular basis without making the sometimes extensive effort to schedule a real conversation (though those too are important). as a creative person, i love to fill my pinterest and ig feeds with beautiful inputs from people whose craft and aesthetic i admire, who a few years ago i would have never even heard of. i know i have developed my own aesthetic much more rapidly as an artist because of this.
however, a definite dark side also exists, and certain aspects of this new cultural dialogue bring out some very ugly parts of human nature. because of the anonymity, we see a great upsurge in [cyber]bullying. on the rare occasions i scroll to the comments portion of an article or youtube video or what have you, i am immediately disgusted by the overwhelming negativity launched at the subject, and also between commenters. it’s disgusting and frightening, and increasingly difficult to find happy places on the internet. without even the most basic social decency of a face to face interaction, online conversations have rapidly devolved into a bizarre, ugly mess. even within our own creative community, which i typically think of as a warm and supportive place, i was morbidly intrigued to learn that there are entire forums devoted to ripping bloggers/designers/crafters to complete shit, just for sport. no feedback, no constructive criticism, just the sheer thrill of being nasty. if anyone targeted responds, they get attacked for responding. if anyone disagrees with the attackers, they get trashed for ruining the fun. it’s a twisted place that turns my stomach.
behind the great cloak of our computer screens, too many insecure, hateful people seem to suffer from an oz complex. i feel so sad, both for the people who get needlessly attacked (because let us remember these online presences are PEOPLE, not characters), and for the sorry souls who feel compelled to lash out against humanity in this way. obviously they are deeply dissatisfied with their own lives, but because of our digital access, they can continue to feed their insecurity rather than devote that time to enhancing meaningful relationships or finding rewarding pastimes that would lift them up out of whatever misery they’re wallowing in. i’m not completely naive–i realize the world isn’t always full of sunshine, we all have our struggles, and bad feelings and bad people will always exist. i’m a realist and a pragmatist but i also just happen to believe it’s worthless to be mean, and it’s harmful, too. it takes no extra effort to be kind and makes life more livable for everyone around you, and for yourself. if you have constructive criticism, you can share it personally. if you just get a rise out of bringing other people down anonymously, keeping your mouth shut is always a fair option, especially considering nobody is forcing your exposure to these apparently noxious stimuli. if we’re this nasty to full grown adults, is it any wonder that pre-teens are killing themselves because of vicious taunting on Facebook? is what you’re saying really harmless? would you say it face to face without the security of your screenname? are you a part of the problem? think before you type, guys.
anyhow, that isn’t even the focus of what i want to talk about today, just a topic i think about often with kids of my own who will have to face that environment in just a few years. today, i want to discuss a personal transformation i have going on with my own representation on social media, and think out loud about it a bit.
being fairly old fashioned, i’ve never sought out new technology or been aware of trends in any way. i was very slow to get a smartphone (it was not until i was forced to pay $100 for a new flip phone or get an iphone free that i made the transition) because i was uneasy with how this readily accessible technology was changing our social fabric. i was averse to how isolated and impersonal people as a whole had become, so consumed by their devices. being quite introverted, it’s long been a complaint of my friends and family that i never have a phone on or with me, and my voicemail is always full. i was reluctant for many reasons to change that–people who really need to reach me find a way to do so, and i value my private life and my presence of mind within it, and knowing my industrious personality, i knew i too would quickly become addicted to staying totally current on my email, news, blogs i follow, etc.
while i’m not 100% glued to my phone, i am predictably using it often. like all social media, there are some great benefits to this. as an introvert, i really hate talking on the phone. text messages are a great, quick way to stay in touch with people i’d otherwise never talk to, and on my own time and own terms. in our ever-shortening collective attention span, i too like to pass a few minutes here and there when i’d otherwise be idle scrolling through my ig feed or checking my email. while i don’t love the idea of my children feeling slighted or ignored, i also feel another major societal transition underfoot as it pertains to parenting–i think many of us dote upon/focus on/protect/obsess over our children far more than our parents did about us, and i think while our intentions are clearly in the right place, that behavior has some devastating effects on our children’s self esteem and problem solving capabilities. i feel better about my children watching me knit vs. watching me edit photos on my phone (though they seem more intrigued by the latter), but ultimately i feel it’s important for me to have moments here and there where i’m not 100% focused on my kids out of each day’s 14 hours of wakefulness for my own sanity, just as it’s important for my kids to learn that, while their thoughts and feelings matter greatly, they cannot expect to have every want and demand met the moment they make it, and self sufficiency and independence will take you far in life.
well, this is obviously a loaded subject! still not even where i meant for this post to go. what i’d like to talk about today is my representation of myself on social media, how that concept for me has evolved alongside my creative business, and the tricky act of parsing out the business from the personal. i resisted instagram just like i resist every single advance in technology and general trend. i was a late adopter, but liked the idea of something that encourages people to think photographically and convey their thoughts through images. like any platform, people use it in a number of ways, and it’s fun and interesting to curate your own community.
my life on instagram began as a way to document daily moments for friends and family to see (kids, dog, travels) as well as works in progress/finished projects for my creative friends to see. i photographed sporadically, with a pretty decent effort at taking appealing photos, but plenty of poor lighting/point and click/crappy quality thrown in the convey the issue immediately at hand. i had no idea (and still don’t, really), about using instagram in any other way…my followers were all friends or friends of friends who were there to see my feed as it was.
my usage began changing slightly a few weeks ago with the #bpsewvember challenge. i was intrigued by the challenge of taking a photograph daily of an assigned topic, and soon it turned into a challenge within a challenge for me to take a thoughtful photograph, to find an interesting perspective to convey the same image hundreds of others were also trying to convey in their own way, and i LOVED that challenge. it offered me the opportunity to create intention and presence in a medium i often rush through. simultaneously, i used my first interactive hashtag, #fringeandfriendsknitalong while i was knitting some cabled hats, in my effort to make some new knitting friends and participate in an online knitting community for the first time. previously, all of my hashtags were either jokes or possibly huge catchall phrases. i was amazed at the response of a more intimate, tailored community, and soon i had many knitters including me in their feeds.
i stopped thinking about instagram as individual photos, but instead began conceiving of my feed as a small portfolio. i continued to enjoy the urge arising to take a photo, but then pausing to think of a more tasteful, beautiful way to capture it. and if i couldn’t find the way, i didn’t post the photo. as a result, my feed became more streamlined and curated, and some long time followers began to notice the improvement in my photography and complimenting me, which was great. which led to some newer people unfamiliar with me/my blog/my feed to warn me of the perils of conformity. which got me thinking…always thinking, right?
people use social media for different reasons. some personal, but also some business. with the way consumers use social media, any business would be pretty goofy not to have at least some presence on social media…including MY business (duh). creativity is inherently a really personal thing. unlike my other career, wherein the majority of practice is learned and concrete, art is entirely personal and subjective (and because of that, very intimidating for the artist!). for me, that means i like the idea of infusing aspects of my personal life into my business. it’s all a part of me, and i love to connect with people on a personal level, and for my art to speak personally to others. it also means that if my representation of myself on social media is an extension of my business. it’s an ongoing opportunity for branding and conveying my aesthetic. that’s really valuable real estate! for example, if i tag my photos effectively to bring more knitters to my feed, i am creating a platform with which to engage future potential buyers of knitwear patterns. this is pretty obvious, but was frankly a totally revelatory thought to me.
while i have a number of people in my feed because i want to see their everyday lives, those photos are balanced by photos of businesses/brands/makers/artists/photographers whose aesthetic inspires me. i imagine it’s like that for a lot of people. and as i gain more followers separated by more and more degrees from me personally, i’ve had to rethink how i’m representing myself (and similarly, perhaps my family is tiring of photos less revealing of our daily lives). not because i’m conforming or being inauthentic, but because i’m trying to walk the line between business and personal effectively. again a part of my introversion, i am extraordinarily uncomfortable with self-promotion (hosting the giveaway for the popover poncho gave me nightmares. literally.). direct attention kind of petrifies me, so i tend not to try and attract it. i’m terrible at taking compliments, and am always the first to self deprecate or shy away from any praise. however, having run a small creative business for about a year now, i accept and appreciate that nobody is going to give me their attention if i don’t ask for it in the beginning. the handmade market is too saturated right now to stand out unless you do at least a little hooting and hollering, especially if, like me, you have no brick and mortar presence. i wish i already had a huge platform, but if my fledgling etsy sales are any indication, (not a business expert but i believe they are), i don’t.
the process of creating itself is wonderful, and because creativity is personal and i enjoy it, i think i’ve been happy to crouch behind my work as a hobby for a long time. while i continue to value the process, in order to move forward as an artist in the way i want to, i feel i also need to take risks associated with treating my business as a business instead of a hobby. unfortunately, the only thing that makes me feel inauthentic is the self-promotion, but i just don’t see any way around that…i’m experimenting with how to do it as tastefully and gracefully as possible (seriously, suggestions VERY welcome, ick ick ick).
so, it’s not taking better photos that makes me feel icky–i love it, actually. devoting more time to art and creativity has slowly improved my wardrobe, my home furnishings, even my iphone case–shouldn’t my photos too become more beautiful? i love this post about taking the time to thoughtfully capture the progress of projects you put a lot of time and heart into–don’t they deserve it? i’ve always had a real interest in photography, even logging numerous hours in high school in a real, live darkroom (remember those?!). i don’t always have the ability to drag around my gigantic dslr camera, and i think it’s wonderful that the phones in our cameras can now take gorgeous photos. i have been enjoying reading up and playing with different photo apps, even exploring techniques specific to iphone photography, or the unique square frame of the instagram photo that defies that critical rule of thirds. i have been running the same 3, 6, and 10 mile loops around town for years, and now i see them in a totally different way as i constantly scout new photography locations, examine the light at different times of the day, and inevitably end up running the last few miles with a growing pile of twigs, leaves, and berries in my fist to stage in future photos. i am enjoying taking forever to conceptualize and then edit my photos, it’s one of my favorite projects thus far in my early retirement. it’s not the way everyone uses instagram, but i don’t think that makes it disingenuous or incorrect.
for all these reasons, i’m happy to keep improving my feed, and working to find the balance between retaining the attention and interest of people already following me (friends, family, sewers), as well as new friends (mostly knitters, i think), and striving to engage an expanding audience. i also recently started a private account for friends and family to continue documenting those moments that aren’t quite as beautiful, but are still memorable and important (pls shoot me an email or ask my mom if you want the name). on my main feed, i am continuing to practice iphone photography, and experimenting with different hashtags to draw more attention to my feed. i’m trying to post one or two photos a day with no particular rhyme or reason. if you, like me, feel unsettled when you see a million hashtags on a post (i’m trying to do that only long after i’ve posted the photo to my feed so i don’t seem crazy to my existing followers, is that odd? honestly clueless about etiquette), or you think giveaways asking for followers are weird (myself included), i really am sorry. it’s a tough, tough industry, and if you read this blog, i trust you know i take authenticity very seriously. there are plenty of routes i’ve avoided and opportunities i’ve passed up because it just doesn’t feel right. but if you see something that rubs you the wrong way, at least now you know that i probably thought pretty damn hard about how it would affect both of us.
how do you handle digital representations of yourself in social media?