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social security through social media?

September 11, 2012

I have at least an intermittent presence on these social media outlets: Flickr, LinkedIn, Twitter, LibraryThing, Pinterest, and now Google+. I have a blog each on Tumblr and WordPress, and plan to soon add a third blog, for my business.

Everyone knows what a time sink this stuff can be.

The actual structure of social media presents bigger problems for me. We can think of a (social) network as a hub at the center, an inner circle of intimates, and a large group of people further out. Our solar system is a good analog: the hub is the sun; their inner circle is the rocky planets; their outer circles are the gas giants and their moons; people at the edges are the Kuiper belt.

In almost all social situations I can think of, I am a person at the edge, what I call a fringer.

Time and time again, people have tried to draw me into the center of activity because they felt sorry for me sitting at the sidelines. Truth is, I like sitting at the sidelines. Yes, I’m an introvert, but that’s not the whole story.

Hubs and their inner circles tend to be homogenous in some way(s). And they spend a lot of time checking in with each other, making sure they’re all still on the same page. They say they are seeking harmony — how could harmony be a bad thing? An orchestra where everyone makes beautiful music together! Harmony, in the way it was used against me, though, actually meant We Are All First Violins Here. Anyone who is not a violin better figure out how to fake being one tout suite.

I was a tuba. On the best day of my life, I couldn’t sound like any stringed instrument. I tried anyway, but I invariably failed.

The rare people who thought being a tuba was pretty cool were fellow family non-stringed instruments, or more commonly, people nothing like my relatives. Not necessarily people that were like me though: I wasn’t the unlucky cygnet being raised by ducks who just needed to find swans.

I don’t really ‘fit in’ anywhere I go.

Maybe that sounds sad, but it isn’t.

As a stranger everywhere I go, I’m not bound by other people’s expectations of appropriate behavior, because I don’t know what they are. I can’t know. If I act with goodwill, though–sincere efforts to learn the lingua franca often bear fruit–many people will nod approvingly as I move through their territory. They won’t see me as a threat. They may even encourage me to settle down among them, but they usually take it in good part when I refuse. Some people just have to wander, and I’m one of them.

Itinerancy bestows many benefits upon the ‘frequent flier’. I often think of myself as a honey bee. I visit many different kinds of flowers throughout a wide-ranging territory. I like and need all of the flowers, as no one kind of flower provides sufficient nourishment. While honey bees probably aren’t aware that fetching pollen also cross-fertilizes the flowers visited, that’s one of my favorite parts. As I move between groups, or follow my curiosity in a more solitary way (usually, books), my pollen grains are ideas: how to do things; how to think about certain subjects; how to approach certain problems; what people in this place value, and why; what customs we follow here; how to deal with differences.

Hubs and their inner circles are stationary, which leads to territorial behaviors. I’ve met hubs who occasionally appreciate the news I bring from the outside world, but generally, they don’t care very much what’s happening outside their borders. Or they do want to benefit from what I can tell them, but they want to be the only ones benefiting. They never understand that they’re not offering me anything I want.

I can’t stay in one place, within one group, all the time. I’m kinesthetic–I need to move. Who I am exists not in the groups I belong to, but the fertile voids between them, where anything is possible. Where I can surprise even myself.

If all groups I belong to were somehow to connect directly with each other, as many social media platforms seem interested in facilitating, my value as a bridge between those groups disappears. Not only that, but to still move I would have to abandon the resulting super-group, to find other places where groups can stay smallish, local, and distinct.

When I’ve tried to ‘settle down’, stagnation quickly sets in. The daily concerns and preoccupations of hubs and their inner circles bore me to tears. I’m always trying to change the subject, you know, to something interesting. That pisses everyone else off, so they belittle and ignore me, or just shut me out. Eventually I’m essentially in solitary confinement. And although I enjoy my own company, I crave conversation, I crave flow. I’m like a river, surrounded by ponds. I’ve got to go.


I keep reading articles for small-business owners that advocate concentrating on a few social media outlets, to prevent spreading ourselves too thin, or diluting our brand(s). We are supposed to focus our energies–specialists can command higher fees! The discipline that expertise requires is really impressive! Be one of those people, and watch clients flock to you!

No doubt that works. But it doesn’t help me at all. I’ve done 6 kinds of clerical jobs; 2 or 3 kinds of administrative jobs (depending on how you count); and 4 kinds of technical jobs. That’s 24 jobs in 8 industries. I’ve worked in 3 different governmental agencies, at 2 different levels, and in 2 states. I was a volunteer at a fourth government agency in a third state.

The ‘big tent’ large enough to encompass all of my experience? Does not exist.

What’s more, I’m proud of the sheer panoply of my experiences. I’ve sought out variety, including jobs I wasn’t sure I could do, just to see what would happen. I always say, “If I knew how it would turn out, there’d be no point in doing it!”

Subject or skill expertise is usually achieved through successively narrowing one’s concentration, excluding everything that doesn’t fit. I can’t do that. My brain constantly seeks, and often finds, connections between things seemingly unrelated. So I can’t attain expertise or mastery as the words are normally used. Generalists are sneered at, as dilettantes, dabblers, or worse. My life, though, has consistently interested me. I don’t mind being confounded–I learn a lot when that happens. I don’t mind failure–I learn even more.

I live (have lived) epic experiences, relishing every flavor note. While I seek psychological congruence, my version of it differs from the norm, because it embraces conflict and tension and differing priorities amongst all personas I have ever been. They squabble–I don’t think all of them agree on anything.

Perhaps the one thing that membranes* my life together? Editing. Not even mostly of words. I accept and appreciate all my personas and their experiences, but when I have to present them to other people–people who are first violins, or ponds–I have to sculpt, I have to prune, I have to fool the eye. What is any of that but editing? Sometimes I even recombine various components into a new identity–isn’t that developmental editing?

I do have years of experience copyediting and content editing. (But never for a job that was formally about that.)


It’s taken much longer than it should have, but I’ve finally realized why none of my (8!) approaches to the magazine contest’s essay ever progressed beyond crap. I already knew of course that I don’t believe in regrets. But I thought I could treat the question as a thought experiment. And by doing that, I hoped I could stretch my mind in unfamiliar directions.

Instead, I think I proved to myself that even my imagination cannot stretch infinitely far. The question didn’t simply involve stretching my mind, it would have required turning it inside out.

But now I know something I hadn’t figured out before. And I also discovered intriguing ideas during the process, although they didn’t add up into anything I could use. So it’s still a net gain.


*If membrane isn’t already a verb, it should be.

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