Are we here for attention or support? Both?

By Caitlin Kelly

I grew up long before social media existed.

If I wanted or needed love, attention, interest — in me or my work — I had to find and nurture the relationships that might provide it. Or not. In the real world, friends can come and go, betray us, be disloyal, say stupid or unkind things — or be incredibly loving for decades.

When conflict arises, which is likely over a long relationship of true intimacy, we have a choice: try and work it out or bail and end the relationship.

We had no “mute” or “block” button as Twitter so conveniently offers.

I spend too much of my time on Twitter, I admit, and now have 6,239 followers there, a few of whom have become close friends. But I would never mistake the majority of these strangers as benign and caring friends, no matter how much anyone “likes” my tweets or retweets me.

True friends show up for us at times of real difficulty, bringing their physical presence whenever possible or sending cards, gifts, flowers, letters. They know how bad things really are, or how hard we may have worked to win something.

I’ve also been very badly burned twice through Facebook, once by a “friend” who sent a screenshot of my (unwise) rant about an editor to that editor — destroying a professional relationship. I now accept almost no new “friends.”

So people on social media “know” only a fraction of who I am, even though I’ve shared quite a lot here, because, even though WordPress says I have 23,000 (!?) followers, a tiny fraction (thank you!) ever comment. I really have no idea if more than 20 or 30 people even read this. Tant pis!

I’m very aware that sharing personal or professional details — here and anywhere on social media — also means leaving myself open to criticism, judgment and cruelty, not just kindness.

I was recently shocked (should I have been?) to see a highly popular artist/writer start hinting on Twitter that she was facing a dire medical diagnosis, which she has now made clear is some form of cancer. She has 38,000 followers, but some have chosen to tweet truly horrific things in reply to her very real fear and grief.

I’ve tweeted and DMed her to suggest she stop sharing any details there immediately and focus solely on true friends and medical care. The added stress is not helpful.

Social media — certainly in an era of (ugh) “influencers” — begs an important question:

Are we doing this for attention (obviously) or (also?) for crucial emotional support?

I see many people now sharing their grief on Twitter (as well as weddings and births and graduations and new Phds) and find this somewhat confounding — but I also spent the first 30 years of my life in Canada and France, countries whose cultures are far more reticent than the “lemme tell you everything right now!” that Americans seem to enjoy.

It’s true many of us are now terribly isolated and lonely, and year after year of avoiding social contact because of COVID, is only making it worse. Social media becomes a default way to connect emotionally and intellectually.

It’s just a double-edged sword.

I was recently dressed down (albeit privately and in a friendly way) by a very senior journalist who admires my work, saying I’m so negative about journalism on Twitter I’m losing editors’ interest in working with me.

At this point in my career, I don’t care. I want newer writers to avoid the many pitfalls I see them tumbling into.

But loneliness is a huge problem for so many…here’s a long, smart NYT article about it:

real remedies to the problem of loneliness, Dr. Murthy stressed, must address not just the lonely people but the culture making them lonely.

“We ask people to exercise and eat a healthy diet and take their medications,” he said. “But if we truly want to be healthy, happy and fulfilled as a society, we have to restructure our lives around people. Right now our lives are centered around work.”

From the surgeon general of the United States, this is a moonshot call, to reverse cultural patterns that are decades in the making and that profit some of the nation’s biggest businesses.

We recently hosted a much beloved younger friend for a few days, visiting NY for the first time in a few years from Oregon. What a joy it was!

We chatted, snoozed, caught up, discovered all sorts of unlikely commonalities — like our addiction to the Bourne movies. Like us, she works freelance, so we have lots in common from a work perspective as well.

It was so sad to say goodbye!

Why do I still blog — now 13 years and 2,000+ posts into it?

I love having a place to muse, to share my travels or images or advice or ideas…many of which can’t be monetized and sold as pieces of journalism. I weary of retailing every thought!

But I also enjoy hearing from you!

So, yes, attention is the goal.

How about you?

Do you blog or tweet or use Reddit or TikTok or YouTube to gain attention or support?

Is it working for you as you hope?

31 thoughts on “Are we here for attention or support? Both?

  1. First, let me say I am one of those people who follows your blog regularly but rarely leaves comments. You pose an interesting question, and one on which I’ve mused lately myself. I started blogging only last year and the only social media I am on is Instagram. I wouldn’t count them as close friends, but as I said in my blog post yesterday – the value I find in social media is engaging in a community of like-minded people and sharing our thoughts and attempts to design our lives.

    1. Thanks for being here — and saying hi!

      I think we are all so hungry for real connection, whether here or IRL.

      I love Insta… a source of true beauty and inspiration for me, whether ceramics, travel, textiles, design…

      Good luck with the blog!

  2. What I have noticed is thatTwitter has been responsible for huge rifts amongst friends on the left (often over trivial issues), while coalescing mean spirited and bigoted right wing trolls and giving them a place to attack and denounce democracy and civil discourse. And has “introduced” me to dozens of Millennial and Gen X copywriters who apparently make $100k plus freelance every year while living in their van with a cute dog (or I guess that’s Instagram). And since I’ve been ghosted several times now by editors (“DM your story pitches about skiing and mental health!”), I will not pitch or look for business there, either.

  3. I read you because you’re interesting and because I quite enjoyed your company when I gave you that ride all those many years go.

    I use fb for keeping in touch with friends, notably people I went to high school with, and with whom I’ve become much more friendly than I ever was with them in high school, but others as well. I’ve made a few new friends on fb as well. But nothing substitutes for old, intimate friends, and for seeing them in person. Although during the pandemic, I wasn’t lonely because my dog and I run every day, mostly in a local woodland, and we’d talk to people we met there. And I would call old intimate friends.

    I use twitter only for tweeting or retweeting things I care about, mostly political stuff, both in negative and positive ways.

    These days I don’t spend much time on soc media. Maybe 1/2 hr/day on average. I do regard it as often pernicious, driving people into conflict, and indeed, the algorithms are designed to do just that. Much of that, and other valuable subjects are discussed in the new book, Stolen Focus, by Johann Hari, which I learned about the way I learn about a lot of interesting books, by listening to Open Source. (Lady Parts, by Deborah Copaken is also really good, and women will find it personally important.)

  4. I enjoy your blog, rarely comment and only like (not just yours, but any blog) if I’ve read the post.
    I started my blog in retirement, writing is a past-time, although, I have been published in several Florida Writers Anthology/Collections. I have a tweeter account but can’t get the hang of tweeting, Facebook is a challenge because I’m uncomfortable sharing. Spilling my guts is done in private. In general, rudeness has become acceptable, whether speeding ahead of you to arrive at a red light first or expressing their opinion in a hateful way. I do recall a blog you posted lamenting the challenges and struggle of earning income as a writer and thought it silly to complain since you’ve had success but I am sympathetic. Claudia

    1. Thanks.

      The writing business is very very very different than the 1990s when I easily cleared $60,000 a year (and my health insurance was $500/month, not $1,500.month.) “Success” is only partly past achievement — but also current income. Pay rates are abysmal now.

      I think the most private stuff is NOT for social media unless you also know every single person intimately in real life — on Facebook I am still in touch with some people from my early 20s or before who live very far away.

      Twitter is tricky!

      1. sthrendyle

        Almost as important – and I just thought of this the other day – is that writers don’t have the audience that they used to. Before the internet, there were only a dozen or two newspapers or magazines worth reading. Your byline MEANT something, and generally (through an arduous editorial process sometimes), you turned out stories that reached hundreds of thousands of subscribers. Now, our stories are buried in magazines people no longer subscribe to or are buried in the dozens of stories that media websites print each day. If I didn’t call attention to it on LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook where usually the same dozen or so folks congratulate me on a job well done (which I’m wholly appreciative of). However, regardless of the pay, it all just feels like you’re pissing in the wind. It IS discouraging if you don’t have an audience and people aren’t going to care about the issues or stories you’re writing about, though. Hey, but I grew up white, male and in the Golden Age of Media (though by the time I started freelancing, its decline was already underway) so who am I to complain?

      2. This is very true. I spend a lot more time on Twitter than ideally is wise…but it brought me some terrific work opportunities I would never have found otherwise.

  5. It’s pretty obvious that I blog for attention, specifically for my stories and my writing career. Still, I’ve managed to make some really good friends, some of whom I’ve met offline, so that’s been an added bonus. And I’m happy to say that I have gained an audience. Not that big when you compare it to some other authors, but it’s growing and I have a core group of followers who love my work and eagerly await news about new stories. So I guess it’s working out for me.
    Plus, it’s fun. I get to share my thoughts on writing and horror and find like-minded individuals that I may not be able to find in real life. After being the only major horror fan I know for so many years, that’s a relief.

  6. I love your posts. Even though my blogging has been sporadic over the years, I always immediately search for you when I make it back. I’ve struggled coming up with answers to the same questions you posed. The best I can come up with is that blogging gives me some structure, the thing I’ve been lacking throughout this pandemic, especially with no job and feeling rather purposeless to be honest. Writing helps me work through my thoughts, taking them from a jumble of mess into what hopefully makes a lot more sense once I’ve edited them down into more concise statements. And, I feel like I’ve met some kindred spirits along the way.

    1. Thanks!

      So true…I often find I really know what I think when I write it down here and try to make some coherent sense of it. I think blogging is a lovely way to make connections…. as we know!

  7. you certainly have raised some interesting questions here. I have an intstgram and twitter account, but very rarely, ever post on them. these came to be a part of my life through one of my daughter’s insistence. I use Facebook to post my blogs and stay connected to daily life with old friends and distant family, though not as much as I used to. blogging has been a mostly positive experience for me. I find it to be a place where I can post stories, observations, things I find interesting or baffling, or moments from every day life, and connect with like-minded people. I’d say for me, social media has felt a safe place overall to do all of these things, and when I am met with an argument, about something I consider non-controversial, I am always surprised, as that’s not how I see most things that I choose to share. I am rarely apologetic, because it is my space after all, and unless I’m posting things that would hurt people, I feel comfortable saying what I want to say.

    1. Having read your lovely blog, it’s got a specific sensibility that wouldn’t logically enrage anyone!

      I find it interesting — and to be expected — that we’re all seeking “like minded people” whether that’s politics, religion. esthetics or nerdy obsessions (or all of these!)

      In many ways I really love where I live (lower Hudson Valley) but have not made many close friends here because all people seem to do here is work or spend time with their own families. I find it lonely — yet online have found kindred spirits in Berlin, London,. rural Tennessee…

      1. thank you, and one would think that. but –
        i once had someone challenge me and argue about a mr. rogers post i wrote. i wrote about why he always wore cardigan sweaters on his show, as i found the backstory interesting and kind. (his mother hand knit them all for him and it was a silent thank you and homage to her). in response, a reader brought up a crazy conspiracy theory about him having to do with tattoos, wwII, etc. i responded by saying that i truly wrote it as it was intended, to simply share a story of love, nothing deeper, no hidden meaning, no conspiracy. she backed down and apologized, but i was just so surprised how quickly she, and others at times, have been to overreact to what i write.

  8. Nope. I’m one of those reserved Canadians who keeps private matters to herself . Facebookland is a happy, smiley place I’d like to live in, but it almost cost me a cherished friendship anyway. A dear friend started using it to aggressively promote her position as an anti-vaxer, pro-freedom convoy supporter, etc. Some of the posts were so disrespectful (and sometimes just plain inaccurate) to those on the other side of the discussion that it caused serious damage to many of her friendships, including ours.

    1. Hah! I get it. I really do…as I noted, American social culture is aggressively friendly and social and I have never understood why — when their social policies are shockingly and increasingly cruel.

      I’ve been told here I’m “unfriendly” when I’m simply (far) more reserved than many Americans. I prefer French and Canadian reserve, getting to know people slowly and more permanently.

      Sorry about your friend. This pandemic has brought out a lot of weirdness.

  9. Hi! I’m new to the blogging scene, but your question on whether we write for attention or for support caught my eye & is so intriguing. I’ve had a love of writing since I was little, and I thought blogging would be a good way to get my thoughts out there & have conversations with others. You really made me think though if the conversations I’m seeking would be based on attention or support. I’m thinking it’s probably a bit of both. 🙂

    1. Thanks!

      Welcome to blogging — for me, the very best blogs, and the ones that last for many years, somehow manage to engage readers enough to comment and to return and (if you’re lucky!) to share them as well.

      I write for a living, so some people think why WOULD I write “for free”? Precisely because it’s my space, my time, my words unedited by others, as most blogs are. But they are massively rewritten many times (by me!) before publication.

      The very best blogs always remember that, while we obviously want attention (and maybe support) we are writing for OTHER people. The worst blogs are overly personal and just a blablabla of “I did this” and “I did that” and references to things none of us know.

      Audience.

  10. Jan Jasper

    That former friend who passed on a screenshot of your rant to the editor makes sense (though obviously it’s indefensible) because they likely saw a personal/financial advantage, i.e. less competition for them if they destroyed your relationship with the editor. As for the person disclosing on Twitter that she has cancer and now others are tweeting cruel things – I cannot understand that at all. It’s horrifying…. I guess it’s good that that senior editor dressed you down about your “negativity” about journalism, you likely knew the risk you took, yet it sounds like they meant to be constructive. And I think it’s great that you feel established enough in your career to speak out to try to protect younger journalists from the shark-infested waters….As for me, I do very little on social media, I don’t like Facebook for the usual reasons (their sharing of our personal data, how FB contributes to ethnic violence in Asia) so I spend little time there except occasionally to track down friends and relatives I lost touch with years ago – that ability is one of the few good things about Facebook. It’s unfortunate that so many journalists (and other professionals as well) seem to rely on Twitter, I guess it’s not so easy to just refuse to partake, I guess they’d pay a price. I am not much tempted to spend time on social media because it seems like a time-suck, also it’s sad that for so many people it’s their main social life, and I see little benefit, for me at least

    1. I was horrified that a “friend” would try to destroy me. Pathetic bullshit, basically. How insecure they must be to feel the need to take me down!

      The person who warned me did so kindly and I thanked her for her candor.

      Journalists MUST be on Twitter to know what the hell is going on! I follow news from Canada and Europe as well as the U.S. and then also have specific interests (travel) and meet people who share these passions.

      I’ve gotten some of my best work opportunities from Twitter since it allows people — if they want to — to be “themselves” (i.e. human, funny, relatable, interesting) and not just a resume robot on LinkedIn. I am every bit myself there and people who choose to work with me are fine with it. I don’t have to trim my sails to please an employer, current or future — while also aware that some VERY senior people in my industry are following me there.

  11. Great thought-provoking post, as always. Thanks for the good work!

    I’ve been away from my blog for a while, for a variety of reasons, and I’m trying to find my way back. I hope when I do, it will be mainly to give myself an outlet for self-expression, with a slight positive need for support and attention. My use of social media in general is light, mainly because of my government job and the fact that my boss creeps on our social media accounts. There are many posts I’d like to comment on or show emotion over that I don’t because I’m trying to avoid a reprimand. Ironically, I’m the administrator on the social media accounts for our agency and through that, I’ve learned to edit myself on my personal accounts. It’s a fine line to walk.

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