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?

Are we here for attention or support? Both?