Tweeting “Like Real People Do”: A Reflection on Narcissism, Social Media, and the Politics of Collective Memory

I have fallen head over heels for the music of Hozier recently. For those of you who have not heard of him, he is an Irish blues/soul musician who has been blowing up the charts with his single “Take Me To Church.” The video, serving as a powerful message against LGBT violence, can be seen below. I would also check out “Foreigner’s God,” “In a Week,” and the song whose title I’m borrowing for this post “Like Real People Do.”

Anyway, like many other musical acts I’m a fan of, I follow Hozier on Twitter, and, in the mad hopes of gaining his attention, I sent a tweet out to him, saying that I listen to his album and dance (and trip) down the sidewalk when I walk home from the night shift at my job. I ended up scrolling through his website, when I came to this guest post that he had written about social media.

I found Hozier’s words to be a nice and necessary kick in the teeth, to be completely honest. I was expecting something to the effect of the usual “social media enhances our own narcissism and can be bad, but it’s a necessary evil” song-and-dance routine. I was not expecting a searing and thoughtful indictment of social media as both an effigy to the ideals of success we wish to inhabit and a costume to convince the rest of the general public that we have actually attained it. While I fully agree with his points, his conclusions made me very uneasy, as I know that I have been guilty of perpetuating this cycle of narcissism.

If I’m being fully honest with myself, I didn’t send that tweet to Hozier solely to express my love of his music. Certainly, that was the vast majority of my motivation, but holding out hope for the possibility of engaging in a conversation over Twitter or getting a retweet was definitely there, too. And why was it there?  Did I really want to engage in an actual exchange with Hozier? Or did I want the recognition of his noticing me? (At least, the parts of me I show online.) And then, which part of me would he even be having that conversation with? And what part of him would I get to converse with?

I often pride myself on being fairly discerning about what I share and do on social media, which is why this article brings me particular pause. Just because I might be careful about what I do on social media does not mean that I’m not perpetuating the culture of narcissism that goes with it, to say nothing of building up my own ego.

I don’t think, however, that this can be utilized as a call to completely disappear from social media–indeed, I’m fairly certain that that’s not Hozier’s point at all. Rather, I think that his article is a call for a more conscious effort on our collective part to strive towards a more self-reflective and meaningful way of communicating with one another and about one another. Having this ability to speak to many people about so many different things reveals a great deal about our own inherent biases, and, given that we are able to look back at our various updates, it gives us the opportunity to examine them critically.

This brings me to a point of reflection about this past year, and my uneasy relationship with what’s being called “hashtag activism.” Social media has proven invaluable in terms of bringing attention to very important issues, locally and globally. However, it’s worth reflecting on our motivations for sending out that tweet or post and the overarching, tangible impact it has. For example, it’s all well and good to tweet #BringBackOurGirls, or #blacklivesmatter to call attention to important happenings, but will sending a tweet contribute to the conversations on violence against women and girls, or race? And what about the other hashtags that don’t make national media coverage? What becomes a subject of public discussion, and what is swept under the rug? More importantly, why? Who gets left out of these conversations? And how can we utilize social media to undermine the systems at play that contribute to the concerning news stories and cultural paradigms in the first place?

As usual, I can’t say that I have any answers to any of these questions. I’m not innocent of any of this–I’ve posted and tweeted thoughtlessly more times than I can count.  However, at the very least, I can say that I am grateful to Hozier for (very indirectly) calling me out on my own involvement with all of this. Since I can only control my own place in all of this, it is my hope that, for this year, I do the best I can to communicate “like real people do”–as authentically as I can, as truthfully as I can, and as respectfully as I can.

Image courtesy of pixabay.

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