In rapid succession yesterday, Twitter threw me two how-to-behave-online links that kind of rubbed me the wrong way. The first was a widely re-shared essay titled You Are Boring:
You listen to the same five podcasts and read the same seven blogs as all your pals. You stay up late on Twitter making hashtagged jokes about the event that everyone has decided will be the event about which everyone jokes today. You love to send withering @ messages to people like Rush Limbaugh—of course, those notes are not meant for their ostensible recipients, but for your friends, who will chuckle and retweet your savage wit.
You are boring. So, so boring.
Because, of course, there’s nothing more staggeringly original than telling other people how much they bore you…
That’s a little unfair, and the advice it goes on to give about how to be more interesting is perfectly fine, as such things go: listen more, tell interesting stories, try new things. But the framing of it bugs me, particularly in the example given for the “listen more” part of the advice:
I’d be down in the smoking car, listening to two people have a conversation that went like this:
Stranger #1: Thing about my life.
Stranger #2: Thing about my life that is somewhat related to what you just said.
Stranger #1: Thing about my life that is somewhat related to what you just said.
Stranger#2: Thing about my life…
Next stop: Boringsville, Population: 2.
When I read that, my immediate thought was: Who gives a shit? I mean, really, why do you care what two total strangers are talking about? If it helps them pass the time, what does it matter to you?
And that’s really my problem with the whole thing: Yeah, fine, people post lots of boring stuff to social media networks. God knows, I see the same dumb re-shared images cross my Facebook feed thirty times each, and most of them weren’t all that amusing the first time around.
But you know what? If it makes the people posting those images happy, who am I to shit all over that. Yeah, I may be too cool for the latest stupid meme-of-the-moment, but so what? It’s not like it’s taking all that much of my time, and if it is taking too much time, even Facebook makes it fairly easy to screen people out of my feed. Presumably somebody finds all this stuff interesting, or it wouldn’t be re-shared fifty bazillion times.
Now, I’d be really happy if people were a little less credulous about the dumb shit they fall for and repost– the “Bet you can’t name a city in Florida without the letter ‘E'” is so transparently stupid it has to be a scam, even if I can’t quite see what the money-making angle is. (Yes, I know I could Google it and find out, but I just don’t care that much.) But that’s less to do with them boring me than it is a desire to have a less credulous citizenry as a general matter. If people wised up enough to not fall for stupid re-shared fishing scams, then we could maybe make some progress on getting them to not fall for anti-vaccine scaremongering or homeopathy, or any of a host of other actively harmful dumb ideas.
The other advice item bears the title Don’t hide your online self when applying for college or career, and I had hopes that this was going to be something actually interesting. Instead, it deserves some sort of award for irony in headline writing, because its advice can be boiled down to: Use your social media outlets to craft a carefully constructed false image to present to colleges and employers.
And, again, there’s nothing all that wrong about the general advice: you should absolutely try to avoid posting drunken naked pictures of yourself and your friends. But, you know, my preferred method of achieving that goal would be by not being the kind of asshole who thinks it’s a good idea to post drunken naked pictures of yourself and your friends, rather than by carefully screening them to locked groups or whatever. And, you know, if you are that kind of asshole, I’d sort of prefer that you did post the drunken naked pictures, so as to give the rest of us fair warning.
The advice that’s given, and the way it’s presented is basically just a call for creating bland and characterless social media profiles as a front to present to colleges and employers. Which sort of defeats the whole purpose of social media, which is to inject a little personality into online interactions. Not only does this leech personality out of everything, it implicitly endorses the idea that it’s appropriate for colleges and employers to consider what you do in your off hours when making admissions and hiring decisions. And really, that concept is way more pernicious than anything that dumb teenagers are likely to get up to with Facebook.
So, my counter-advice is this: Be yourself. With the caveat that, again, you should try not to be an asshole– but don’t do it because being an asshole might cost you a job or a college spot, but rather because being an asshole is a Bad Thing and ought to be avoided. Share stuff that reflects your personality and sense of humor, without worrying about what personnel offices and smug tech writers might think. Use social media platforms to be social not to demonstrate your willingness to conform to some bland and characterless model in hopes of gaining some insignificant economic advantage.
Even if you’re an asshole. Even if you’re boring— get out there and own your boringness. And when some smug asshole asks you about it, ask back “Why do you give a shit, anyway?”