You’ve got this social media thing all figured out. You’re smart about it. You choose your friends carefully, you like the right things they do online (not everything, because you don’t want to be That Guy, do you, the obvious ass-kisser?). You’re cool. You’re building that all-important network.
(Oh, don’t get me started on that network thing, either. I mean, who gives a damn how many writer friends you have, especially if they’re all unknowns like you? Do you want to have lots of writer friends or lots of reader fans? Fans are where the money’s at. If all you hang out with is writers, how do you break out? What about all the writers recommending each others’ books, isn’t that a gigantic circle jerk? On the other hand, you have to start somewhere, right? But is this the best place to get started? And what about those fans, the ones who all the writers are friends with on social media? They like all the right things, too, and get free books out of it. Lots of free books. So yeah, that’s your network.)
You’re so smart, right? There was that one time working in retail and you caught that girl shoplifting years and years ago and when you caught her she said, “You think you smart, but you ain’t,” and it was funny at the time and it’s become a thing you still laugh at now, decades later, but it’s not so funny the more you think about it because it raises the all-important question, the question on everybody’s mind every day: What did I miss?
Thing is, you see what the others are doing on social media and you don’t want to duplicate their mistakes, so you do different things, but they see you, too, and that’s something you really need to install into your personal hard drive: they see you, too. They do. Just as you’re watching them, they’re watching you, and they see what you do and what you don’t and what you Share and Favorite and Like and Retweet and WooWoo and whatever else is out there.
It’s a two-way street, all this stuff, this interacting with other frustrating humans, whether it’s on social media or in meatspace, and you know that if you stroke you should get strokes back, and when you do it’s great and when you don’t it’s not so great and nobody strokes you the way they should for the things you do. People like what they like and not what you think they should like, and it’s funny when you think of writers like A. A. Milne, who hated that his most successful writing was the Winnie the Pooh material, but Jesus Christ, man, at least he got successful, and success in anything honorable isn’t to be despised and beggars can’t be choosers. If that’s a frustrating roadblock in the path to success, you’d take it in a heartbeat.
The thing you can’t forget is that your writer buddies know what you Like, but most importantly, they know what you don’t Like. They know when you’ve put them on the Pay No Mind List, even when you don’t announce it. Oh, you’ve got your reasons for not sharing their stuff, and they’re good ones and not about jealousy (oh, there’s so much jealousy), but about character: this one called you and your buddies fascists; that one called everyone who thinks like you a bigot (which means that he called you a bigot, let’s be honest); the one over there’s an ass-kisser who never reciprocates your strokes anyway so she’s no loss except that you did spend some time boosting her books and giving her asked-for feedback some time ago and it’d only be fair to get a stroke in return.
So while you’re watching them, they’re watching you, and the bitchy, passive-aggressive nature of social media reinforces hostilities even as it bolsters friendships. And those red flags, the ones you ignored because you wanted to make friends with everybody? They’re still there, and there’re reasons why they’re there, and those reasons never vanish: you just ignore them.
Just remember what limited good social media really does, and whatever happens, no matter what, cross your heart and hope to die, remember that they see you too. You know them, and they know you.
(Title taken from Marillion’s song of the same name.)