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Framed: on “authenticity” online

Kate’s post here seems to have struck a nerve – not just with me, as shown by the subsequent Twitter convos. As Woolly Wormhead noted, we all seem to feel we have to justify what we show online – whether that’s positive or negative. Ironic, no? We (I) feel guilty about being too “perfect” and about being too whiny.

I’ve written previously about the pretty-pretty side and how uncomfortable that aspirational social media can be. It’s something I keep thinking about. And I think the angle I took then is wrong; or at least, overly judgy. I actually posted a “messy desk” picture in a specific effort to counterbalance that prettification, and a commenter said it was too tidy! Which shows (a) how hard it is to actually reflect the messiness of reality in a close-cropped image, and (b) how personal responses to online photos are. 

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There are so many “shoulds” around having a creative business online. You should use all possible social media channels. (Terrible advice, imo.) You should use a lot of pictures – blogging is very visual these days. (Great, but seriously time consuming.) You shouldn’t swear. (Whoops.) You should be positive, but relatable. Seriously? You want me to swallow all the crappiness, while showing my screw-ups, but only in a funny way? Yeah, this is actual advice I read recently. It’s very sensible. Keep your personal stuff separate to work stuff. Be human but be professional. Awesome. It so doesn’t work for me. I have to be my whole self, or it all falls apart.

Here’s the thing: I don’t think I’m wrong to do it my way. I may well be alienating some customers. That’s a shame. But – quite apart from my experience that if I don’t keep it personal and real, I can’t keep it up at all, and apart from the fact that I am so small-time I don’t really have a customer base anyway** –  as a reader myself, I can’t stay interested in anyone who only shares carefully edited highlights. (Well. We all do. Obviously. But I need at least a few hints of their personal reality, on at least one channel. I need to care about them as a human being, not only a creator who shares perfect step-out photos and beautiful FOs and nothing else.) I know that I love to follow designers and writers who allow their humour and humanity full flow. They don’t have to tell me much of anything about their personal life, or their creative problems. They just have to acknowledge that it exists. Then there’s a relationship. Then I care, and I genuinely want to buy their stuff.

But “my whole self” includes those celebratory moments – the triumphs and small joys, often very visual joys, of everyday life. I seriously love being able to share little images from my day: the sudden explosion of spring life, the charm of my toddler conking out on the sofa again, the thrill of a stitch pattern coming together perfectly. The astonishing fact that I now live (in a very ordinary, un-beautiful suburban flat) so very close to forests and fields and lakes; close enough that they are part of my everyday life. I share that because it delights and amazes me. There’s a lot about my life that is frustratingly hard, and you know all about that, because I whine about it plenty. But you won’t see it on Instagram, because that’s not how Instagram works. You mostly won’t see it on Ravelry either, because (apart from some mutual support in the mommy group!) that’s not how I use Ravelry. Someone who only followed me in those places might well think I was being “inauthentic”. Someone who only followed my blog might think I were just a terrible whiner. God, I hope not. I hope I do more than that. But I can’t swear that I do.

I’m really not going to put too much effort into limiting my whines, OR my celebrations. I express what I need to express, and what I need to see and hear from others. Maybe we all need to give ourselves a break: for both consumers and producers, social media is whatever we need it to be. 

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* Do bear this in mind. I’m not giving advice here; you should look to established designers/creative types for that. I’m only describing my experience and my feelings, and this is not the experience of a successful designer, so take it for what it’s worth.

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