Do You Love Me?

If you blog for long enough, I suppose, you will eventually begin to repeat yourself. It can feel like a never-ending cycle of repetition, but who is to say that revisiting themes is necessarily a bad thing? So I apologize if I have written about this topic before, but my good friend Ari over at We Buy Balloons recently emailed me a link to this article with a request to write on the subject with careful consideration, as the affliction mention in the article is the same from which he claims to suffer. Although, I have linked to the article itself, I will quote it at length below, so please stay with us till then end. In short the post claims:

The Internet measures everything. And I am a slave to those measurements. After so many years of pushing much of my life through this screen, I’ve started measuring my experiences and my sense of self-worth using the same metrics as the Internet uses to measure success. I check my stats relentlessly. The sad truth is that I spend more time measuring than I spend doing.

I used to feel an immediate sense of accomplishment when I wrote an article or came up with a joke that I thought was good. Now that feeling is always delayed until I see how the material does. How many views did my article get? Did it get mentioned the requisite number of times on Twitter and Facebook. I need to see the numbers.

And I define myself by those numbers.

I judge the quality of my writing by looking at the traffic to my articles. I assess the humor of my jokes by counting retweets. My status updates, shared links, and photos of my kids need a certain number of Likes to be a success. How am I doing? That depends on how many friends I have, how many followers, how much traffic.

What David Pell describes in his post, what bothers my friend Ari, and those of us involved in this game called social media is the feeling that our thoughts, our art, our creations, our words, and in turn ourselves are only as valuable as the amount of attention they receive from the network of “friends” we have been able to cull from the web.

Before I try to offer up answers or justifications of why this need for affirmation isn’t as big of a problem as many think, let me first admit that I check my stats.  I am pretty stoked to be nearing 3,000 followers on Twitter. I google myself often and enjoy hearing my voice echoed back to me via the web. The question I suppose we are left asking is, is that a problem? Is wanting/needing affirmation a bad thing? Is it vain or needy to place your self-worth in the hands of others? Before we get to that answer, I want to make a claim that this discussion has little to do with the Internet. (*The need for acceptance and identity creation has implications for our students. I will try to touch on this idea at the end of this post.) Sure the Internet has made it easy to see how much attention each pixel of our collective self receives via Re-Tweets, views, Likes and other affirmative statistics, but I claiming that the need to be heard and accepted has always been a  part of our human psychology; the Internet has only exacerbated  our ability to monitor it.

I think the need to be heard and told we are valued is not only at the core of human psychology, but intricately connected to the very purpose of art. Yes, I understand that much of art is personal and cathartic. Why the artist creates is a question that we will never answer, but we can all agree that while some artists create art for the sake self-healing, many also create art to connect to others. Art is the ultimate act of sharing and openness. Audience is an inherent part of art. It has to be. The dance between creator and observer is what makes art so powerful. Let’s face it most people who create, write, paint, perform are needy. We have a void in our souls that can only be filled when others connect to our creations. We feel alive when our art helps others see who we are.

by Ari Zeiger

I have had this need to share and connect with people for as long as I can remember. Does this make me vain or needy? Lacking in self-confidence? Perhaps. But that is the nature to which I have grown fond. The spaces between a robust self-esteem and crippling anxiety is tenuous at best. The difference between the vain rock star and the nervous introvert can be nothing more than a pair of sunglasses and a bottle of whiskey. What I am trying to say is that, while the Internet magnifies our anxieties about whether or not we matter, most artist have always needed to be told they are relevant. Before the Internet did not authors worry about book sales, artists by number of guests at openings and paintings sold? While stats, numbers, sales, and reviews have always been a part of sharing, statistics have never slowed art down. I am sure the first caveman looked for a round of grunts and nods after he first sketched a picture of the hunt on the cold stonewall.

When I was younger, in my twenties, I would scribble poetry, stories, and other random observations into journals. These thoughts were very similar to my current blog posts, Tweets, and other ideas I share online. Back then I would scatter these journals on coffee table tops and would love when people would flip though them at parties. I would watch them wrinkle their faces in confusion or smile in understanding. I could feel them entering my consciousness through a shared understanding of not only who I was, but who they were. I was just not smart enough to leave a little comment box at the bottom of my journal pages, because I wanted more than anything to hear what they thought.

It is true that the web can enhance our neurosis and self-doubt. It can cripple the act of creation if we allow it to magnify our fears and misgivings. It can force us to place our self-worth in the hands of a fluctuating audience, and yes this can have disastrous effects, but this is not the fault of the web. This neurosis is rooted in our collective human psychology of needing love and acceptance. There are people much smarter than me with more letters after their names, who I am sure can write much more intellectually than me on the subject, but that has never stopped me from offering my opinion.

Each person must decide how their self-worth is derived. Each one of us has to decide what we are worth despite the Internet not because of it. Some days we feel like we can carry the world, while others we need to be told we are special. Understanding this dance and going with the flow is the most important thing an artist can learn to do. This was true before the web and it is even truer now.

It is nice to have a post re-tweeted and shared and “liked” and commented on. It makes us feel like our ideas are important and that others “get” us. It is great to make a film and get a couple thousands hits on Youtube. It feels warm in the heart to watch people connect to you words. It feels great to recieve emails from people who say they get what you are doing. Saying they respect you and your work. It is nice to go to conference and have drunken peers say they admire you. It is great to have fans. It feels good to be loved. How can it not? But the question we must ask ourselves is how much of what we do is for them? How much is for me? And how much is for us?

I could get wrapped up in the numbers, and I admit that I sometimes do, but I am learning that I  share and let spill what I cannot hold inside. All I can do is hope that others connect. I have the audacity to write  a book about my life and think people will care. That is the biggest cry for attention I can think of and that has nothing to do with the Internet or numbers, but I have found the less I worry about the numbers and focus on creating honest work filled with energy and passion the more the numbers tend to rise; the more comments I receive. Someday this fragile network I have cobbled together could all dry up and I could end up writing a blog no one reads, or scribble back into journals I leave on coffee tables in vacant rooms. A book no one buys. Either way, I know that  sometimes I create art to help lighten the load and guide me through the darkness and sometimes I share what I share for you dear reader and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Show me you understand. Show me you love me. Show me I matter. Leave a comment. Re-Tweet. Like me on Facebook. Let this post get a 1000 hits. Let it go viral and get me a book deal. Let it shine a light on all the world and make me a god! Or just skim it, mark it as read, and chalk up to more gibberish coming to you through your informationally overloaded brain. There will be more tomorrow. I am valuable whether you tell me I am or not. How do I know? Just a promise I made to myself as a child. It is not too late make yourself that promise right now….let’s see what you got!

I will save the my thoughts on how young adults deal with the dance between confidence and anxiety and how the new online social reality is affecting their identity creation for another post, or maybe in the comments. But I will say that right now I am listening to the Beatles and this is a great first step to helping young people understand how to deal with the world wide web:

 

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18 thoughts on “Do You Love Me?

  1. avatarMark

    I enjoyed this post. I am 55 – been around awhile. I have thought about things you include on this post. I think the reasons people are involved in social media are very diverse, and I enjoy them all and don’t judge them. I find your background, perspective and ideas fascinating and enjoyable. You help me to grow as a person and professional. Thx.

    Reply
  2. avatarMeredith (@msstewart)
    Twitter: msstewart

    Jonathan Frazen’s article in the NY Times today seems to echo some of the feelings/questions you articulate http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/29/opinion/29franzen.html or rather, you echo him, as he wrote his speech first 😉

    I think reflecting on our blogging, or writing in general, can often remind us how similar we are to the selves we thought we’d left behind. On some level, I am still the girl who played school in the basement (I was much nicer to my imaginary students than my sister was to hers :)) or who ate lunch in the library during high school.

    I think it’s good to be honest about our need for acceptance and love, but also to acknowledge that real love and acceptance comes in the form of relationship. That’s not to say that relationships can’t form over the internet, but that a blog reader or a retweeter is a weaker relationship than friendship.

    Reply
    1. avatarJabiz Post author

      I agree with you when you say, “a blog reader or a retweeter is a weaker relationship than friendship.” I think. I agree, but why is this true? Will this always be this way? I guess I am questioning the meaning of friendship. This may warrant a new post.

      Don’t get me wrong, I know who my friends are and my three really good friends of 20+ years rarely use social media and we are still tight, but what I want to explore is how we can strengthen online relationships. Maybe not to the point of friendship, but show that they can be more productive and important than random face-to-face acquaintances.

      Reply
    2. avatarJabiz Post author

      Oh, one more thing. I was floored by that Franzen piece and will write on it soon I hope. Thanks.

      Reply
  3. avatarAimee
    Twitter: aimeewhitbread

    I can completely relate to what you are saying. I’ll admit I’ve watched to see how many hits my blog posts get. It’s not many, but then again, I’m brand new at this blogging game. I wish I could say that it hasn’t crushed my spirit a bit when I don’t get any hits on a post I thought was particularly helpful or insightful. But then I remind myself that the purpose of *my* writing about my teaching is to help me reflect upon my practices. If someone else likes a piece or recommends my blog I see it as a bonus.

    But it should would be nice to get a few comments. *Sigh* How do I move past that? I’m hoping it will come with time.

    Reply
    1. avatarJabiz Post author

      I am not sure I can answer that. I think that was the point of this post. I still fluctuate between needing readers and knowing that I really don’t. My advice is keep writing and plugging away. It takes time to build a network.

      Reply
  4. avatarCathy Crea
    Twitter: cathycrea

    I’ve been thinking about loneliness and relationships a lot lately. Wondering what it takes to not feel lonely, or conversely, to feel connected. I feel connected when I know someone has thought about me, or about something I’ve said or done or liked or needed. I guess these numbers you seek are some kind of proof that someone out there is thinking about you, or about something you’ve said or done or liked or needed.

    I tend to seek out more contact online when I feel less connected face-to-face, but where possible, I’d rather work on being present and connected face-to-face first, online second. That said, I’ve certainly had some very connected moments online that out-connect face-to-face interactions, and those moments feel very fulfilling.

    I did something weird today that may shock you: I went to church. It was a Unitarian Universalist church where they don’t care if you’re an atheist, so no need to completely freak out. :-) I didn’t know anyone there, though I know a few who attend the church. I felt accepted, but not connected. I’m trying to decide if this is a community where I can build more connections in an effort to live a life more fully examined, or if this is a way I want to build more connections. I’m not sure yet, but it’s something I will continue to explore.

    At any rate, I think everyone on this earth wants to feel connected.

    Reply
  5. avatarGreg

    Thanks, J. I read that post when it came out. I thought the title was cunning: “I don’t care if you read this”, which of course makes you want to read it. And then it is about how he cares too much about people reading his stuff, and how he wants to stop caring, but he still cares. And his article is getting a bajillion hits as an example of a writer who steadfastly doesn’t care about being read, but is posting his indifference on the Internet… It’s a tangled web of irony.

    That’s why I like your response. You are unapologetic about caring and needing approval, and I like it when people are unapologetic. Your response is not as ironic. You hint at the danger of tying your self worth to Internet crowds, but I’m not convinced that you sufficiently acknowledge your own criticism.

    A note about your idea about art and needing to connect with others. Perhaps in many cases art is about needing approval or creating connections or putting yourself out there. But in other, and perhaps more radical and profound cases, art is entirely self-motivated, and would only succeed in the face of ridicule or indifference. Van Gough springs to mind, Kafka who was virtually unknown in his lifetime, Michelangelo who appears to have been devoted to art and not glory. Any teenager who spends hours drumming or sculpting or fixing up a car in his garage instead of hanging out with friends is an example of this. Activities drive us, recognition is often a hazy dream, a bonus, the thing that for a few moments superficially proves that what we have done was worth doing. But what is worth doing is worth doing without recognition, for the sake of the thing itself.

    I think, in the end, that what we should admit to ourselves is that the online thing, blogging, acquiring followers (what a cult of personality ploy that is, if you think about it even for a second, as if everyone should want to be Manson or Jesus or Stalin) and all the rest, is just a game, separate entirely from “the thing itself”. Beyond a certain point, it’s a popularity contest writ large. It has nothing to do with your value to the world or your students. Your self-worth is another matter.

    Thanks for the chance to respond, J.

    Reply
    1. avatarJabiz Post author

      Ok here we go….Well Greg, I beg to differ when you say that, “art is entirely self-motivated.” What I was trying to say is that maybe art is defined by its need to connect creator with audience. I am not sure what you are describing, but I suggest that art for it’s own sake is not art. That only creation that demands connection can be called art. Or maybe I need a new word.

      Your examples of Van Gogh and others are not adequate for what you described, because Van Gogh wanted connection more than anything: To women, his brother, strangers, god! The “success” of his art is not in the value it has now, but how it helped or didn’t help him as an artist, when he was alive.

      I don’t know much about Michelangelo, but wasn’t he seeking the glory of god? That connection?

      I don’t meant to flip flop, but I agree that, “what is worth doing is worth doing without recognition, for the sake of the thing itself” but I am saying that may not be art? Not sure what that is? And not sure it is necessarily more important than that which is done in the name of connection.

      Finally, you said, “all the rest, is just a game, separate entirely from “the thing itself”. Beyond a certain point, it’s a popularity contest writ large. It has nothing to do with your value to the world or your students. ”

      I’m not sure it is just a popularity contest in the shallow way you are painting it as. What is wrong with trying to find, connect tom create an audience. What purpose would it serve me as an artist for example to write a book no one reads? Would not this “popularity contest” not help m connect to more readers? Take this blog was it more honest or artistic when no one read it? Or now, that I can see a few hundred reads and these dare I say insightful conversations.

      I agree with you that simply trying to get followers or “increase” traffic of r it’s own sake is pointless, but as an artist trying to connect to an audience and build a network, I see this “game” more important. Sure it has little to do with my self-worth, but it has something to do with the value of my work if not for myself than for others.

      I may rescind everything I have said after I re-read that Franzen article. That was pure genius, but then again he has many more readers than me :)

      Reply
  6. avatarJeff
    Twitter: gypsycreative

    During the years I lived in Mozambique, I took a new approach to journal writing. There was one photocopy machine in Xai-Xai (at the post office). Whenever I wrote a letter to someone, I photocopied it before I mailed it off. And I mailed off a lot of letters.

    What I realized was that my voice changed dramatically depending on my audience. In the past, the “subject” of my journals was always the same ubiquitous non-person; the same, nameless other-me that served as my audience, who always knew how to interpret me, and who I always approached the same way. But when I wrote letters to people, I inevitably expressed myself differently—writing to my mom, an old drinking buddy, a girl, etc. Obviously, I couldn’t tell everyone everything—but I had to tell everything somehow.

    I discovered that my letters revealed different aspects of myself, and as a collection, represented a much more honest and comprehensive perspective of my experiences. Suffice it to say, best journal I ever kept.

    As an artist I’ve lived with the same affliction: the burning urge to create and share. Maybe it’s a desire for approval, maybe insecurity, whatever. The bottom line is I can’t get past the need to express my take on the world. And at the end of the day, I still take so much satisfaction from listening to my own music, looking at my own paintings, and then moving on.

    We need to express ourselves honestly and openly. Sometimes we need to shout, and sometimes we need to imply. In the end, I think it’s mostly an introspective process under the guise of an outward effort. I still love to read those photocopied letters I sent to all those people, because it helps to better understand who I am.

    Reply
    1. avatarJabiz Post author

      I am so with you on this idea, “As an artist I’ve lived with the same affliction: the burning urge to create and share. Maybe it’s a desire for approval, maybe insecurity, whatever. The bottom line is I can’t get past the need to express my take on the world. And at the end of the day, I still take so much satisfaction from listening to my own music, looking at my own paintings, and then moving on. ”

      Don’t know what else to say. I guess none of it really matters. We do what we have to do. All I am saying is that it feels nice to have people, as many people as are interested, read along and say,”______________.”

      Reply
  7. avatarRob
    Twitter: EducationalKarma

    Those who love you do so regardless (or sometimes despite) your social network offerings. And yes, someday this group you have cobbled together will dry up. Not could. Will. Love wont, but this will. Whenever I feel my level of self-importance inflate, my value hitched to others’ views, or notice a convergence between external opinion and internal self-worth, I remind myself: http://bit.ly/kFZSL1

    But relax, Jabiz. Rabid social networking for affirmation is not necessarily a bad thing. Heroin use is a bad thing. So is anorexia, rape, and extreme poverty, to name but a few. This…this is a mild neurosis of the developed, connected world. If this desire for connections—no matter how tenuous, superficial, and digital—helps you realize goals, self, and creativity then dive in. We all have come of age in the age of the digital Narcissus. You are in good, vainglorious, company.

    Reply
  8. avatarsarena jaafar
    Twitter: sjaafar

    What do I think? Does it matter? 😛 Personally, I enjoyed all kinds of honesty, I respect anyone who is honest especially with himself. Honestly, I don’t know if I am that honest with myself ;P. I respect your thoughts and feelings.and you are so articulate about it. You might be repetitive but the way you approach the same subject everytime is different.There was never a dull moment.Because I can sense that everything came from your heart.Anything that comes from the heart touches souls.An element I found refreshing is the self reflection which exists in every sentence you wrote.Only the brave walk that path.Well,honestly, does it matter? 😛

    Reply
  9. avatarAmy Wilborn

    As I read this post, it makes me think of a Mark Twain novel. Kind of like watching people coming to your own funeral. Social media can make make one paranoid. My thoughts on having ‘followers’ and ‘friends’ are “Are you really a friend?” or “Are you just being nosy?”

    Reply
  10. avatarAmy Wilborn

    I need to comment on this again. Not because I have to but because I want to. I realized after rereading this particular post, It wasn’t about you. You are secure in your self worth. It was David Pell who was not. It was he who was in the Twain novel.
    The social media network has turned something very personal into a public display of acceptance with the counting of “likes” and “dislikes.”
    I am in EDM 310 at the University of South Alabama. If you feel the need to respond, you may.

    Reply
    1. avatarJabiz Post author

      Thanks for your comments Amy. I think we are in the process of reevaluating the concept of privacy and publicity. Really we are in the process of reevaluating so many things and that is what these spaces and these conversations are here to help us do. Looking forward to future chats.

      Reply

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