how to play the social media game
This year, as I’ve been compelled to use social media more and more to share my work, I’ve fallen into cycles of feeling inspired, enjoying the community and connections it’s given me… to feeling bored, discouraged, and mildly resentful of how it makes me feel on a daily basis. I’ll abandon social media for days or weeks at a time, until business anxiety and guilt set in and I’m back at it again, scrolling and posting, posting and scrolling.
Recently, I was thinking about how social media is designed as a game, not unlike Candy Crush. Everything — from its interface design, how shiny and appealing the app looks in your phone, to the way the red notification flags (or hearts) provide us with dosages of intermittent reinforcement. Like having a drugs in an IV bag constantly dripping “medicine” into our veins while we walk through life.
(For instance, even after you’ve seen all of your notifications, Facebook shows that you have 9+ more. Once you click, you see that they’re just old notifications. Can we take a second to acknowledge how f-ed up this is??? The app never leaves you hanging. It’s designed to remind you that you’re important / interesting enough to get “paged.” That somebody, somewhere, cares about you — even if it’s completely fabricated.)
Unconscious digital habits
I’ll restate the obvious to get it out of the way. Social media has become an unconscious habit for many of us — playing into our hunger for validation and connection, renting a piece of our attention (and data), and then selling it to businesses, for better or worse.
All of this is arguably… fine. That is, if it didn’t regularly leave us feeling mildly powerless, overstimulated, and overwhelmed. What started as a place for real connection with likeminded people has become a noisy echo chamber where everyone is yelling everything at the same time. In this kind of environment, how can I listen intently, with my full focus and presence? How can I use my voice authentically, and be heard?
Can I just quit social media?
If I were a really bold artist, I said to myself, I would quit social media altogether. I would ask people to stay in touch with me solely via email newsletter or audio dispatches via podcast, or, hell, via beautifully packaged mail in the three dimensional world.
I’m not bold enough yet. But I am becoming more aware of how I’m taking part in the social media game. I want to be an educated and empowered player. Technology came with no player rulebook— so bit by bit, I’m writing my own.
The rules of the game
In the game of social media, it’s not you against other players; it’s you against the game. The prized resource? Your attention. The game designers’ goal? Harvest as much of your attention as possible, in as frequent and short intervals as possible. They win by controlling your attention, emotional energy, and time.
How do you win? I mean, what is winning?
I’ll tell you what winning is NOT. Winning is not opening Instagram or Facebook, hoping to quench an inexplicable thirst (for what?), scrolling around, and closing it again, mildly indifferent, mildly amused, mildly bored. Winning is not constantly comparing ourselves to people with bigger followings, more carefully curated feeds, and more gushing of validation on everything they post.
To win the game of social media is to use social media in a way that adds to your life — instead of detracting from it. To me, winning comes with feelings of self-control, empowerment, and purpose.
What does winning look like for you? When do you feel happiest and most fulfilled in your usage of social media?
Here’s my list.
Conscientious usage: making conscious decisions for when and how I engage with it — in a way that doesn’t detract from real life experiences.
Intimate: Engaging in back and forths with people on the platform — so that it’s almost like a messaging app, with some visual context.
Purpose-driven: Making human connections with my work that go beyond the platform (to conversations over email, to sharing things in my shop, my perspective via blog posts, and my newsletter)
Creative spirit of giving: Sharing daily dispatches of my artist life and work — to remind people of what I do; how I do it, and my perspective on the world.
Social media is most enjoyable for me when I think of it as an art form in itself, and as a playground — rather than as giving presentations to a panelist of judges. Recently, I’ve been exploring more how to treat it lightly, with a spirit of play and experimentation, with little attachment to metrics. If each post I create can speak deeply to just one person, then I’ll have considered my social media experiment a wild success.
What social media could be
When I am able disengage with the gamification of social media — with its addictiveness, constant comparison, and external metrics of success, perhaps I can lean into my own intimate experience of these platforms as tools for greater self discovery and connection. What are some other possibilities for what social media could be? Here’s three.
a campfire - where you and your community gathers to share stories
a playground - where you experiment with different forms of play and expression
a stage - where you invent and perform different versions of yourself
I’m sure there are many more. What other ones can you think of?
Evolving our digital lives
Technology is evolving more quickly than we are. As digital natives, conscious consumers, and human beings, it’s imperative that we evolve with it — proactively, instead of being pushed and pulled by the digital tides. We do this by consciously looking at the way we interact with technology, reflecting on the virtual image we carry online, and being deliberate with the way we relate to one another. How does it add or detract from our lives and overall wellbeing? I’ll be writing about this more over the next few weeks.
Prompts for you to consider
What interactions do you most enjoy on social media?
What do you seek from your experience on social media?
When do you feel icky or unsatisfied with it?
How could you reframe the “game” of social media in a way that makes you feel empowered?
Which metrics actually matter? Which ones don’t?
Is social media a campfire, a playground, or a stage? Or is it something else?