Tiddlywinks ~ an essay by Krista McCarthy

So I’m off social media. I did it. I went in too deep, and now I’m just out. Because it flattened me.

It started with Facebook. It’s like only Zuckerberg really understood what was going to be happening, and had to happen, and that is that people would start connecting. But he might not have thought through the dynamics of that kind of connecting, which allows the subject – the “person” depicted on the Facebook page – to show herself to the world in any way she likes.

I didn’t need to connect to “friends and family” because I was already close enough to them and we all talked. On the phone. Instead I wanted to connect with other people. People I didn’t know yet and who didn’t know me. I was going to be (I thought) a monologist, though I think monology was already getting a little bit passé. I still wanted to do that, though, because I studied acting in college and I had a head for observational humor and conversation. I went on a date one time with a semi-famous monologist, who was successful for a while – until monology became a little bit passé, that is.

So I built my Facebook page to suggest to the universe that I was an up-and-coming monologist. Even though I wasn’t.

I even had my husband take a picture of me in front of a mic stand, with a brick wall behind me as if I were performing at a sort of comedy club thing, though I was really in my mother’s family room.

You understand. I was creating an image of myself that I wanted others to see. My Facebook posts were all about new material I was working on, like the one about the time I went out on a boat with some guy and the motor stopped working and we had no oars and had to spend the night on the lake and wait in the morning for another boat to come by and tow us. Which in itself wasn’t really the truth because we did have oars and did row ourselves in, and that guy happened to be my husband. It was just a better story the way I described it on Facebook.

What I wasn’t telling the (few) people who followed my Facebook page was that I really worked in the office of a wine distributor and processed invoices and bills of lading and HR packets. The only good thing I got out of it was a free bottle of wine every now and then.

It took a lot of years for me to figure out I wasn’t making myself more three-dimensional by lying about monology. I was flattening myself. I was turning my image into me, as far as my followers were concerned, and that me wasn’t real. It was flat.

I was a tiddlywink.

I went on to Twitter and Instagram, of course, like everybody, and soon realized that I was being flattened in another way. By the readers of my social media posts and pics.

They were interpreting my online image through their own lenses. They were probably seeing me as a failed monologist, for one thing, since I never seemed to actually perform anywhere. And they definitely weren’t seeing the whole me because I never – never! – talked about my real job. Or my family. Or what I really did on weekends because, you know – privacy.

I could fine-tune things and hint at greater success than I really had, which was none. But more and more I felt like I was becoming an avatar of myself. I was flat and cartoonish. You can just imagine the artist’s rendition of me, with frizzy reddish hair (I have brown hair), big glasses (I wear contacts), and maybe a little tattoo on my shoulder of a microphone (I’d never mar my body with a tattoo!). But that’s what I was becoming to the people who read me.

And I was doing the same to the people I read – at least the ones I didn’t really know. I was estimating who they really were, pigeonholing them. If I somehow related to them I found that I’d bestow them with a little more depth, a private life that I totally had to make up, of course, or a happiness that I had no idea whether they enjoyed or not. And if I didn’t care for them, they got even flatter. Caricatures.

This is out of the subject’s control. What the observer sees is already based on a lie. Or a fib. The observer is judging a shadow of us. That becomes the person online who has our name, and that creates another layer of flattening. We’re not being interpreted accurately because we’ve edited our image to create a – I’ll use the word chimera. I’ve never used the word chimera in my life.

You get what I mean. You don’t know me because I won’t let you know me, but I’ll show you the me I want to be or the me I wish people could see me as. To me, all you are is my audience.

Since there are hundreds or thousands of observers observing my chimera, there must be hundreds or thousands of versions of me out there in the world. That freaks me out too.

So I quit social media and deleted all my accounts. Because I started thinking about the effects of all of this on reality, which is becoming way too flexible nowadays. An infinite number of universes, and they’re all here at the same time! That can’t be good.

We’ve changed the way we communicate with one another because we’ve changed the way we present ourselves to the world. We seem not to like face-to-face anymore because we’re three-dimensional that way, and vulnerable. And I might cry because something upsetting is on my mind. And you might see that I’ve chewed my fingernails way down. And I might notice that you’ve been plucking your eyebrows too much again, and we’ll both notice how the other one is swigging that wine pretty hard. It’s all so fraught.

Better to be flat and perfect?

I don’t think so. When we hide our deep details, our warts, we aren’t whole anymore. And if we think it means anything to be seen as cool or perfect online, we’re just fooling ourselves. We’re not tiddlywinks. We’re full-blown human beings who can’t be known fully through some pictures and twee bon mots online.

I quit social media so I can be myself again and not flat. At least to the people I who want to see me as I am.

Krista McCarthy is a writer and former monologist from the Bay Area. She really has quit social media, so don’t try looking her up on Facebook.

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