Blog / 2024 / Mistake #16: Getting on Social Media in the First Place

February 5, 2024

Last spring, I celebrated my twentieth artiversary, and to mark the moment I’ve been blogging about everyday mistakes, things like believing in the big break or not listening enough.

Today I’m talking about social media and how I sometimes wish I never created any profiles.

It’s like the birth control pill. New studies are showing that it irrevocably changes a person’s brain and may make them more likely to struggle with depression—even after they stop taking birth control. In other words, you can get on the pill, but, in an emotional sense, even if you get off it, you may never really be rid of it.

Same-same for corporate social media and me.

Though I deleted all my profiles years ago now, the validation and disappointment that those apps injected into my life still haunt me. If I’d never gotten a taste for “likes” and if I’d never engaged in sometimes delightful and sometimes contentious public conversations with near-strangers, would I be happier or sadder today? It’s hard to say.

I certainly met lots of lovely individuals through social media, people I might not have encountered otherwise. Then again, I also allowed plenty of toxic narratives about who I am and what my art is to build up because of those apps.

I don’t know if I would have been better or worse off if I’d never signed up for Facebook, but I can tell you for sure that both me and my art would be different.

still from NJ.com video by Andre Malok, showing Lamerbtville artist Gwenn Seemel on the Alexauken Creek Spillway Bridge in teh D&R Canal State Park
still from NJ.com video by Andre Malok

Though I may never be fully rid of the effects of social media, I’m relieved to no longer be exposing myself to it—despite the twinges of regret I may have now and again. Case in point: the recent video coverage of my rainbow connection project on NJ.com’s social media accounts.

If I hadn’t left Insta and all the rest, right now, my life would be a smartphone version of my middle school years, when the bullies took a special interest in me. I know this because I caught a glimpse of the comments on NJ.com’s YouTube, the only social media platform that actually allows me to watch the full video without signing up for the app. And I’ve been told by concerned friends and acquaintances that the responses on Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok—where the views are apparently in the hundreds of thousands—are even worse. If I had accounts on any of those platforms, my profile and DMs would be clogged with haters and hate-bots.

As it stands, I’ve had to field unpleasant comments from exactly one person over the course of the last six weeks, since I started gluing art onto the bridge. The comment came to me in person, and, more importantly, it has been entirely overwhelmed by the oodles of loving and thoughtful support that my community is showing me.

That said, unlike five years ago, when my political art appeared in Newsweek, I haven’t received any words of encouragement from strangers online. In 2019, I was still on social media, but a couple dozen people saw the coverage along with the horrible comments it provoked, and they sought out my site and made the effort to email me. Not so in 2024.

The silence outside of the apps is eerie. All that activity on social media, but, as far as I can tell, not one of those hundreds of thousands of people has exited TikTok or Instagram to react to the story.

It leaves me wondering: who would we be if we hadn’t allowed corporations to commodify our interactions? What kind of art would we be making if we weren’t hanging out in rooms full of strangers and, far too often, saying mean things about them?

Certainly at least some of the energy people are using when they comment on social media would have been channeled into another kind of communication. What poems and plays could be written? What paintings might be made? What could you create if social media wasn’t taking up so much space in your mind?

still from NJ.com video by Andre Malok, showing Lamerbtville artist Gwenn Seemel on the Alexauken Creek Spillway Bridge in teh D&R Canal State Park
still from NJ.com video by Andre Malok

For more information about getting off of socials but still making an art career work, check out these resources. If you’re thinking it can’t be easy to make a living with art while staying away from Instagram and the like, you’d be right. But it’s important to note that using social media to help you go full-time as an artist is practically impossible too.

UPDATE

February 21, 2024

The D&R Canal State Park finally took an interest in the Alexauken Creek Spillway Bridge and cleaned off the wood, removing both my glued-on rainbows and all the Trumpy carvings and scrawlings that they’d allowed to accumulate on the bridge throughout the course of 2023. For pics and more info, go here.


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