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The Vices and Virtues of Being (Too) Online 3 min read
Austin Kleon

The Vices and Virtues of Being (Too) Online

Both The New York Times and The Atlantic published stories today about the potential harms of social media on children and adolescents. The harms are not of the same sort thought. The Times story was prompted by the U.S. Surgeon General issuing a report that warns that social media

By Cary Littlejohn

Both The New York Times and The Atlantic published stories today about the potential harms of social media on children and adolescents.

The harms are not of the same sort thought.

The Times story was prompted by the U.S. Surgeon General issuing a report that warns that social media usage may be harmful for younger people because we don't yet fully know how it affects their brains.

The Atlantic, on the other hand, was talking about the first generation born into a social media-saturated world coming of age, dealing with the ramifications of not their misuse of social media platforms (by compulsively oversharing) but their parents'.

From The Atlantic:

In the United States, parental authority supersedes a child’s right to privacy, and socially, we’ve normalized sharing information about and images of children that we never would of adults. Parents regularly divulge diaper-changing mishaps, potty-training successes, and details about a child’s first menstrual period to an audience of hundreds or thousands of people. There are no real rules against it. Social-media platforms have guidelines for combatting truly inappropriate content—physical abuse of minors, child nudity, neglect, endangerment, and the like. But uploading non-abusive content can be damaging, too, according to kids whose lives have been painstakingly documented online.

To be fair, maybe it's too much to call it "misuse." Because that's certainly what was envisioned when Facebook came calling, back in the mid-2000s; folks are using the platform as intended, but it seems very likely that we didn't think about the future. In fact, I know we didn't. My generation, just a bit younger than Zuckerberg himself, wasn't thinking about the future when we were finally given the keys to a Facebook account. We weren't thinking about what it might be like to need to "clean up our digital footprint" so that we might not look so young and stupid to potential employers. It was uncharted territory, and we were happy to be explorers in that new world, future be damned.

I've retreated from social media use in general, but especially in that mode that Facebook intended. For one, I don't actually use Facebook; I prefer Twitter (which is literally a hellscape now). But I prefer it for perhaps counterintuitive reasons, if the Facebook model is considered the norm: I don't use it to follow the online lives of my real-life friends. I prefer to follow the voices of strangers, mostly in news and journalism spaces, but some random voices thrown in there as well.

This is probably not normal, and I recognize that. I also realize that I do like the idea of leaving a digital footprint. I think about it when I think about this blog and what I want it to be at the end of the day. Ideally, I want it to be a catch-all for what I'm thinking and reading and doing. This is exactly what some people use their social media accounts for, but I've just never been one of them. I'm not likely to start this late in the game, either. I don't know why one seems better to me than the other, but it does.

Perhaps it's because of what Austin Kleon said about a website being a valuable thing for a person to cultivate:

Maybe I’m weird, but it just feels good. It feels good to reclaim my turf. It feels good to have a spot to think out loud in public where people aren’t spitting and shitting all over the place.

It's not the first time I've grappled with the desire to be online but also not really feeling good about that desire (nor is it the first time that I've turned to Kleon for inspiration, as you can see below).

Mid-year Reset
The middle of the year is a great time to reassess goals and start over instead of waiting for a new year. For me, that means blogging to help with my newsletter and other writing projects.

I recently made the switch to Ghost, and I want this to be my online home now. My blog, my newsletter, all of it; this is my turf, my little corner of the Internet.