eli + mishka vs. eli + mishka

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.

at the beach vs. at the beach

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.

mishka attacked the vacuum vs. mishka attacked the xmas tree

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.

a hat vs. a hat

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.

outfit vs. outfit

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.

work in progress vs. work in progress

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).

blanket vs. blanket

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?

8 Comments on seeking authenticity in a digital age

  1. Dude yesssss to everything in this post. My Instagram game changed dramatically after I got trashed on GOMI, I now show almost no background in any photos, don’t really post photos of personal things, family, and I have a no nephew rule which I broke recently because he’s so adorable in his little banana costume I made him. Just business with the occasional random thing thrown in. I just can’t let myself put many personal things out there anymore in such an abbreviated format as IG. The private personal account is totally the way to go. Also I left my laptop at work today in an attempt to relax after a mild stress attack trying to get this next pattern out and now, here I am tapping out this response on my phone. Excellent post though, I’m a firm believer in being nice!

    • i had to go on today to get the link and it really was so unsettling. i’m grossed out that people like that are walking among me in daily life and terrified my kids might go to school with theirs. omg your stress attack! no! i’m so excited about your next pattern so i can continue to expand my wardrobe. did watching the bears help you unwind…? it’s really too bad that people are gross, because i think most of us enjoy sharing a personal connection with people we admire. but yes, you have to self protect. however, your nephew does look pretty awesome as a banana.

  2. i really appreciate all the thought you put into this post ashley, it’s so interesting to read about these subjects, something i think is on many people’s minds these days. i am very much like you and resisted all social media, i have a blog and just this summer joined ig, and only so i could give my girl a heart (she was photographed by a well known NYC photographer and i was a proud mama). i was surprised to find community on instagram (didn’t have expectations really, it was an unknown). i have though, enjoyed it more than i could imagine! like you, i’m a quiet somewhat introverted person, and really feel uncomfortable with attention. one of the reasons i rarely use hashtags. i know it sounds silly, because i put myself ‘out there’ but what i do, i do for me (mainly) and my number one rule, to not embarrass my children out in the virtual world. that people like an image or follow is always truly gratifying.

    i really respect what you are trying to do with your business, and those are the things i have thought about as well selling photos, knits… (boy do you learn a lot about yourself). i think being authentic means being sincere and doing what makes you happy at the end of the day. i wish you MUCH success with all you wish for!

    and the part you shared about the anonymous people and negative comments is SO sad. i had no idea.
    xxx lori

    • oh, thank you so much for this incredibly thoughtful response, lori! i do enjoy putting a lot of thought into my writing (a post of this length is usually weeks worth of thinking and then at least a whole day of writing with the little ones running around me), and it’s so rewarding when i learn people have taken the time to read. really, it means so much to me.

      being shy and being present on social media isn’t a contradiction in the slightest! it really is true that people use it for different reasons. to give their daughters a heart (she is so, so beautiful!), to connect with friends and family, or to find new communities (sometimes unexpected, as it was for you and is for me, too!). there are probably a thousand other ways people use social media that i’m blissfully unaware of.

      i’m envious that you’re able to do for you and only you…i have always wished for that to be enough, but seem always to be wanting more. not more attention, but to push myself as an artist, which for me does mean seeking recognition in some ways, which inherently makes me feel really uncomfortable and phony. even being honest about it in this post, which is important to me because of how much i value my readership and think of them all as friends, made me feel like a creep. i’ll keep testing the waters and seeking organic, natural methods of making these connections–even in this increasingly impersonal world, i am definitely seeking meaningful interactions with people. it’s not so much an opportunity to make a million anonymous acquaintances as it is a chance to meet special people around the world i otherwise never would. quality over quantity, always always.

      i’m relieved to hear that you have gone through some of the same issues in selling/promoting your own work. it’s uncomfortable on a lot of levels, and i still really haven’t wrapped my mind around what discomfort is a sign that i’m doing something i shouldn’t be, and what is just averse to my personality but i need to overcome to move forward. seems like it should be easy to tell the difference, but somehow it’s not. good advice not to embarrass my children–i should keep this in mind :)

      anyhow, thank you so much again for your thoughtful comment, and meeting friends like you does make it seem like the good can outweigh the bad. xo

  3. I enjoyed reading your post very much! I have been thinking about a lot of these things as well. I only started using IG recently and am using it as a way to share my sewing and “photography”. I have no interest to start a blog so for me it is a wonderful way to connect with bloggers I follow and yes, to show what I have made. I have no real life sewing friends and it can be a lonely hobby so I enjoy interacting with like minded people. I also enjoy the challenge to post aesthetically pleasing pictures and to experiment with my phone camera. I think it has helped me come closer to finding my style and aesthetic and I love finding new spots to photograph on my daily walks. As I am just a “private” person I don’t use my feed to appeal to possible customers but I still think about how I want to present myself. Sometimes I think this is crazy and narcissistic. I loved how you compared pictures of the same situation with each other. So much depends on how something is presented and shown and can attract such different reactions. Is it “wrong” to seek positive reactions? I only use very few hashtags and when I use more public ones I am always baffled when people outside my followers are liking a picture. And sometimes I wonder why they did? Crazy, I know, after all my profile is public. I have always taken a lot of pictures on my walks, just for myself. I relaxes me and helps me to be present in the moment. But I can’t deny that I enjoy sharing them. I pushes me to try and take better pictures. Sometimes I wonder about this parallel world I have created and why I am doing it. I am sometimes intimidated by people and their beautiful and streamlined feed. (I know that not all are using their phone cameras.) I compare myself to them and their perfect lives and feel inadequate. Which is absolutely not what I want to use this medium for! So it can be quite difficult 😉 Like you I am more of an introvert and enjoy this form of communication. I can absolutely understand that you use a private account as well, with a “business” I probably would too. I was shocked to when I found out about GOMI and what is going on there. Why?!! So, not sure where all this rambling is going… :-) Thank you for sharing and I am looking forward to following your process!

    • hi ute! thanks very much for reading the post–that takes some perseverance! ig is a wonderful stand in for a blog, and i think before i started trying to make my feed prettier, it took the place of my blog quite a bit, with tons of photos of works in progress, questions for other sewers when i got stuck, etc. i am having the same experience re: finding my aesthetic. i have always been able to identify what appeals to me when it’s in front of me, but have trouble imagining it (that’s a true gift!). having constant visual inputs from various forms of social media has without question been the most critical aspect of me developing my own style.

      i too get concerned about narcissism, and there’s been some really interesting research about dopamine release in social media, and how the anticipation of the reward causes more dopamine release than the reward itself (hence the obsessive checking of feeds). i try to combat that by limiting my posting to once or twice a day, and spreading them out by several hours. i like to go on as a brain break to see other people’s photos, but won’t allow myself to check frantically after i post. i think a lot of people get caught in that loop (for good biochemical reason) and then they feel disgusted and unplug altogether.

      the other issue i intended to cover but it was already so long you mention here–i think a lot of people start to feel self conscious or inferior, either that their photography doesn’t measure up, or their actual possessions (home, clothing, jewelry, etc) aren’t good enough. that seems to be another common experience that makes a lot of people feel bad about using social media. as for photography, i think looking at really nice feeds is a great way to improve your own technique (and i love your photos in my feed, btw!). and as for comparing material possessions…bah. grass is always greener. i say try to ignore that aspect and focus on what feels rewarding, like capturing special moments on your daily walks.

      i don’t know if it was a good thing to out GOMI, or if i should have left all you poor innocents unaware of that ugly, ugly place. i really don’t know what to say about it other than some people are just very insecure and the internet provides a great medium to unleash that insecurity in hurtful, unproductive ways.

      thanks again for reading!

  4. You know it gets worse Ashley. GOMI is a bit like one of those monsters, where if you say their name, they find you! (easy to search instances of the name or it’s acronym, and they do). I sewed a dreadful dress pattern which had been thoroughly trashed by GOMI, but they diluted their probably authoritative views on the pattern itself by sledging the designer’s personal style and physical appearance. That’s when the message, which may have been a valid one, gets completely lost. It was all that negativity that actually swayed me TOWARDS buying the pattern! Since I’ve never seen another sewing blogger say much negative about the dress pattern whose designer they all revile so much, I should be their hero, right?!
    I enjoy the connection that we can have, without really “knowing” each other. I don’t use my real (full) name at all, don’t geotag images and try not to reveal too much of where I live or what we do. People who go to the trouble to email me can strike up a proper conversation and we get to know each other. I’ve certainly made some new friends that way. I don’t think I’m missing out by not being on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram. But then I’m only here at all to document what I do for my sake, I’m not trying to market anything to anyone else.
    It doesn’t have to be sickening gushing and back patting all the time, you’re right it can just be silence sometimes.
    Not that my silence doesn’t mean I don’t like what you made, perhaps that’s the case, or perhaps I’m just down at the park with a Frisbee and no mobile device! :)

    • oh, without a doubt there are pros and cons to the way the world is shrinking with this technology. i love the relationships i have formed that would have never, ever come to pass without blogging and social media. i have learned at least ten words from you that i’m almost certain i wouldn’t have learned in the next 10 years otherwise :) it’s nice to be able to make things without worrying about promoting them! i make lots of things that never see the light of the blog, and it’s always a relief to blow through something without taking photographs of it, or having to halt the process to wait for the right light, etc. when you get into the promotion, everything gets a little sticky, and motives inevitably change. i love coming back to just making gifts for friends and family when i can. i’ll just assume from now on your silence means you’re at the park!

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