What I am struggling with the most about social media these days is that it feels as though we have to make ourselves the centre of whatever we post, and most of the time, I don’t want to be perceived.
I want to share my art, but I often don’t want to be seen. I don’t want to be at the centre, but there’s this pressure to be. It feels as though no one will be interested in my art on its own, that it has to come with an image and personality people will be drawn to.
I’m not trying to cultivate a mysterious image. I just don’t want to be in front of the camera anymore.
A handful of years ago, I made myself the centre of a YouTube channel. I got in front of the camera all the time, and after some practice, I became comfortable with that. Yes, I’d often cringe at the way I looked while editing, but eventually, I became inured to the experience of my face not looking how I think it should.
I now have little desire to get in front of the camera, but I feel like that’s what today’s internet demands. With the massive rise in popularity of the micro-video, it’s like we’re all expected to be in front of the lens, making ourselves the centre of whatever we create. The algorithms reward this specific format while every other type of content doesn’t measure up.
I think blogs are dying, or are already dead, and that makes me sad. Images aren’t as relevant anymore unless you’re making them move. The written word must be spoken now, and you, the speaker, must be on screen.
What you make doesn’t matter as much as how you appear.
Am I “Old Man Yells at Cloud“? Am I dating myself? Am I aging out of the internet, disconnecting from its pulse? It all moves so fast. I’m becoming a relic of the past. Wait, is this how boomers feel?
I feel this attachment to the older internet, to the way things used to be. I want to keep writing on my silly little blog even though no one reads blogs anymore. I want to keep posting on Instagram even though apparently Instagram is dying. I still don’t really “get” TikTok. I’ve tried! It’s weird because I used to love making YouTube videos, but the micro-video format doesn’t resonate with me in the same way. It doesn’t feel long enough for me to get into the meat of my ideas. I also don’t like how the videos happen at you so fast. I get overwhelmed! I want to slow down. I just want it all to slow down.
Maybe this is simply what getting older is—gradually becoming less connected to what is cool and hip and happening. If we are not already Old Man Yells at Cloud, then Old Man Yells at Cloud is our future. That’s where we’re all headed. We got comfortable with the way things were when we were young, and we want to hold onto that as we get older.
I also find it wild that what it means to be a writer has evolved so radically throughout my lifetime. The internet has been a real game-changer, and the game won’t stop changing. Maybe this is why I still don’t understand what kind of writer I am. The definition of what a writer is keeps evolving. I can’t pin it down. The options for sharing my work shift every year, every month. How am I supposed to stay on top of it all?
After my stint as a YouTuber, I realized that I wanted to focus on my writing, stop getting in front of the camera and start hiding behind walls of words. This feels more natural to me, but it’s as though there’s this call to step forward and show my face again. I don’t want to answer, but I wonder if this might be sabotaging my work.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with getting in front of the camera. There’s nothing wrong with putting your face or personality at the centre of what you create. I’m not writing this essay to shame the people who do that. What I am frustrated with is how this currently feels like the requirement for being online. I know it won’t forever. I expect it will shift again, maybe back to the way things were in the blogging days of the internet or to something else entirely,
but I feel like where we are right now is incompatible with who I am.
I think what I’m really getting at here is that it’s scary and frustrating to be confronted with the fact that you’re getting older. You’re getting older, and the things that once made sense, like how people use social media, don’t make sense anymore. You’re getting older, and the youths are making fun of people like you, and you don’t even understand enough of the context to know what they’re making fun of you for. You’re getting older, and the world you grew up in ten years ago is vastly different from the world today. You’re getting older, you’re a struggling artist, and you’re not sure you want to be perceived because that means giving the world a front seat to you getting older. You can’t keep up. What you do is becoming less and less relevant, but you stick with it because it’s what you know. You start to have some compassion for the generations above that you and your friends used to make fun of because it’s starting to happen to you too.
I don’t think I can tie this essay together with a reassuring ending that perfectly addresses these overlapping issues. Frankly, aging is scary, and we live in a culture that is very anti-aging. Much of the internet is run by capitalists who sell our time, attention, and mental health to the highest bidder without concern for the damage they cause. We’ll never go back to how the internet was. We’re probably overly nostalgic for that anyway, seeing it through rose-tinted glasses. We’re all going to keep getting older. As individuals, we cannot control the larger culture online, only how we respond to it. This could mean leaving social media, dialling back our use, or being more intentional about how we use it. Social media isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, it won’t stop evolving, and it’s unlikely to become any less ruthlessly capitalist. I cannot control this beast of a machine, only when and whether I choose to ride it.
Perhaps the secret is embrace. Perhaps I must accept what is happening to me, fully and in its entirety. Perhaps I must lean into being irrelevant and unknown. Continue to type away on my blog long after blogs have largely vanished from existence. Continue to post what I want. Ignore the numbers. Make what brings me pleasure, and say to hell with the rest.
Be this obscure, aging Millennial dweeb with a tiny platform that puts out weird art in perpetuity.
Continue to be a writer as the definition of what that means keeps changing. Figure out what being a writer means to me rather than try to keep up with what it means to the world. Only allow myself to be perceived when I actually want to be. Embrace my existence here on the margins, in obscurity, where I belong.