Nonplussed: Part One

Photo by Prateek Katyal

I’m Not Like Them But I Can Pretend: Putting Yourself Out There in a World That Won’t Let You Hide

When I was in high school, my best friend and I had this kind of ritual. Before I could drive, he would give me a ride home at the end of the night and he and I would sit in the park to make jokes, smoke a cigarette, and talk about life. 

This was such a simple yet formative bonding experience. Those first years of semi-adult freedoms, having friends who could drive, getting out and about without your parents. Sneaking a cigarette here and there (to the horror of our friends). Connecting in a non-performative, completely human way. 

A time before social media, when people actually lived in the moment and it was shared solely by those people. There were no likes or views, these moments were rarely filmed or photographed ( I’m not sure the rest of our friend group knew we did this). Bonding wasn’t a personal public access show. 

A few weeks ago my friend and illustrator Jen Toth @JenScribblesNY asked to get together. She wanted to talk about Tik Tok, do we use it as visual artists trying to promote our work? HOW do we use it? Do we NEED to use it? 

Jen is one of the calmest, coolest and collected friends I have. When I got to her apartment, she looked mildly distressed, slightly panicked even. The stress and pressure of having to post had shaken my most unflappable friend!

Screenshot of instagram post by Michael Che.

My first memory of social media was around 2002 when LiveJournal became popular. What is a LiveJournal you might ask?! It was, well, exactly what it sounds like, a website where people could publicly post their journal entries and be friends with other users.

The idea was horrifying to me, I could barely keep a PERSONAL journal without dying of second-hand embarrassment to the audience solely of myself. In fact, I destroyed any journal I had months after. To choose to put this on the internet for all the world to see? Hard pass.

At this time I was in high school and dating a musician. We were both involved in the tiny DIY Long Island music scene. Shortly after we got together, his band took off (almost overnight). It was an intense formative experience and needless to say, the fans were obsessive.

A bunch of these fans started a roleplaying community within LiveJournal. They made faux pages posing as us and seemed to know everything about our lives. There were even a few digital photo scans floating around which were incredibly rare at this time, to say it creeped me out is an understatement.

Outside of downloading music and IMing the friends I knew in person, my online presence was null at that age. I wasn’t big on chat rooms or message boards. I had a very cryptic minimal AOL profile. I DID once make an AOL hometown page dedicated to Blink-182 in middle school but I digress, this was non-existent by high school as my fandom went out the window with the release of Enema Of The State. How they found these images and knew any information was beyond me, it weirded me out! Big time.

 I had no interest in creating a LiveJournal for myself and could not wrap my head around making a fake one for a random girl in high school. To put any teenager on to the internet who didn’t want to be there felt like an invasion of privacy and honestly, wrong. 

And that folks, was my first forced experience with having an online presence. 

As time passed, so did the evolution of social media. Eventually, MySpace was the next big thing. Again, I did not understand the point of using this!

“Why would I want to make a page, telling strangers where I live, who I am, who I am friends with and all this other personal information about myself on the internet”? 

It’s 2005 and I am sent to South By Southwest for work. I was working at a major record label part-time during college as a marketing rep. There were roughly 50 reps from every major market in the US. Once a year, the company flew us down to Austin to have meetings and attend the festival (this was back when SXSW was truly a music industry conference before it turned into the brand activation spring break party scene we all know now). I was 19 years old at the time and one of the youngest people on the team. 

  During one of our 8-hour work meetings, our boss asks  “How many of you are using MySpace to promote current albums?” Every single rep raised their hand, except me. The next week I was called into his office.

 “Laura, you need to join MySpace, it’s part of your job. We hire people like you because you’re a tastemaker and having an online presence is part of this.”

Photograph of women leaning against railing on a balcony overlooking cityscape and street
A very emotionally worn out 20-year-old (me) at SXSW exactly one year after having to join social media.

 The writing was on the fucking wall. I loved that job and I was clearly outnumbered. 

At that point, I just started dating ANOTHER musician who was starting to have a career moment (old habits die hard amirite?). His band had a rabid cult following and they idolized him (literally worshipped). To make matters worse, he was not a private person, nor mentally stable. He may as well have inspired the term “TMI” by being a pioneer of the public meltdown. 

MySpace was like Pandora’s box when dating a person with a fanbase. If people are interested in the person you are dating, they soon become interested in you — too interested

From fans, to frienemies to the girls he was cheating on you with – they were all of the sudden requesting to be my “friend”. They were aware of me and I was aware of them. They commented about me on message boards – nitpicked everything including my physical appearance. To say it was bad for my mental health is an understatement. It was awful and created a type of anxiety that I previously hadn’t experienced. Jeez Tom, I thought this was a place for friends!

Time passed and that terrible relationship died along with MySpace. Facebook came into play which was always less appealing and active for creative types. Post-college I wasn’t super active on it, it was mostly used to find out about and promote events. I mostly ignored Twitter as well. Finally, social media was more a background noise than a gnawing migraine.

Around 2010, photo-sharing platforms like TUMBLR and Instagram were born. Social media seemed to be taking a turn for the better as a photographer. Finally, a place to share work and not about your personal life! This I could get on board with. 

This of course was short-lived. I’ll never forget the beginning of the end. I was in San Francisco drinking the infamous bloody mary at Zeitgeist with my friend Victoria. She casually mentioned her overseas pals taking “selfies”.

“Selfie?! What is that? That sounds like slang for giving yourself a handjob”

“It’s when you take a picture of yourself with your iPhone”

“Wait, what? Who would want to see some crappy picture you took of yourself…”

[If you’re wondering who would want that, pop by next week for the second installment and find out]

For more from LJK, check out her book available for pre-sale, Romantic Lowlife Fantasies