Treading Uncomfortably in Social Media

February 5, 2018 § 12 Comments

Jennifer Lang small head shotBy Jennifer Lang

In fall of 2006, Facebook made its debut appearance, available to anyone with an email address over the age of 13. The following year, my 14-year-old son joined and helped me create a profile so I could monitor him. But I just wasn’t into it, and he didn’t need me there. “Why do you want all these people you barely know to see this post?” I asked him on more than one occasion. “It’s so public.”

When high school classmates I hadn’t seen since graduation in 1983 sent friend requests, I mocked not them but the medium. When people posted birthday wishes for worldwide viewing, I squirmed. When I missed a childhood friend’s son’s bar mitzvah, asked to see photos and she said check Facebook, I felt hurt.

By the time Facebook became a verb, my page had withered from inactivity.

When we moved from New York to Israel in 2011, another new immigrant said, “If you want to know what everybody’s up to in this town, scroll Facebook at the end of every day.” I’m not proud, but I turned into a Peeping Tom, skimming people’s posts on a still irregular but more often basis. I neither liked nor commented.

That same year, I opened my own yoga studio and started posting. I taught writing classes and started posting. I launched my blog and posted it. Using it professionally didn’t bother me as much as personally. One new friend teased me, calling me old-fashioned, and email—always my preferred means of communication—obsolete.

Three years later, I entered a low-residency MFA in the U.S. where I made writer friends every one of whom, it seemed, posted with abandon: links to essays, photos from residency, calls for submissions. Sometimes I responded. Sometimes I didn’t. Something still held me back from liking news about a friend’s pet passing or an old classmate’s cancer or a colleague losing a job.

During my second-to-last residency, I attended a panel on literary citizenship, a term I’d never heard before. Its gist: how important it is to support each other, to share each other’s work, to comment for the writer to know and others to see. When our class graduated, one of my friends gave a lecture on a related topic. A year out of school, I attended a writers’ retreat in Ireland, where the instructor insisted we devote a certain number of hours a week to social media, to reading our fellow writers’ stories, to responding to them, to understanding the give and the take in this community.

All throughout these years as writer, I’ve been practicing and teaching yoga too. Back in New York, I attended a weekly teachers’ practice offered by my teacher, Susan. She taught me how to jump from an arm balance called Crow to a low push-up, how to transition from Crow to headstand, how to jump into handstand with both legs. When a fellow yogi mentioned that she was scared to fall, Susan said, “I get it. Me too. Sometimes we might. And that’s okay. Because if we always stay comfortable in our poses and in our practice, if we never let ourselves fall, we’ll never grow.”

Now, whenever I open Facebook, I think about those who have taught me the meaning of being a good literary citizen and about Susan’s message. I think about how in order to grow I have to push myself to tread in uncomfortable territory.

Ten-and-a-half years after I created that first profile, I check it often, to read posts and pieces that otherwise might not have flashed before my eyes, to applaud writers for their beautiful words and to spread them around on social media. I’ve even joined Twitter. On the early vs late adopters scale, I’m on the extremely late, uber slow side, Jennifer Lang, the laggard. I’m not proud, but at least I’m present.
Jennifer Lang’s essays have appeared in Under the Sun, Assay, Ascent, The Coachella Review, Hippocampus Magazine, and Full Grown People. Honors include Pushcart Prize and Best American Essays nominations and finalist in 2017 Crab Orchard Review’s Literary Nonfiction Contest. Find her at and follow her @JenLangWrites as she writes her first memoir.

§ 12 Responses to Treading Uncomfortably in Social Media

  • maggietiede says:

    I really love this! So many words have been written about the dark side of social media, but Facebook and Twitter also have an enormous power to connect and broaden our horizons (especially as readers and writers) that I think too often goes ignored. Lovely!

  • I’m like you. I was slow (and annoyed to feel obligated) to jump onto the social media bandwagon. But I get it. It’s connected to me to other writers that I otherwise would never have met. If I make it mostly about writing and less about personal stuff, it can be a blessing.

  • […] that writers maintain a presence on social media as a way to promote themselves and their work. Sometimes, too, it is seen as a way of supporting other writers. Facebook, blogging, twitter, Pinterest, Instagram. Do these and other methods of online […]

  • Jan Wilberg says:

    Writers can write on social media. There is an opportunity in a post to be literate, to paint a picture of a situation or event. That requires brevity, yes, but that’s where the best writing originates. The fewer words, the clearer.

  • Allison K Williams says:

    I’ve loved reading essays I otherwise wouldn’t get to – Jennifer, I know we both live in places where it’s hard/expensive to get paper literary magazines, and it’s such a gift to get curated recommendations in my social feeds!

  • Amy Collini says:

    I so understand the discomfort. I’ve never “bought in” to Facebook, although I was on it a LOT last winter after the election here. And as a writer, I don’t think I need to love or use Facebook (or Twitter or Instagram) to be successful. I’ve been told by so many people that it’s absolutely necessary to be all over social media to be successful as a writer…and I’ve been told the exact opposite at conferences by writers as esteemed as Andre Dubus III. For me, it all comes down to: does this feel right in my gut? For me, the answer is no Facebook. Or Twitter or Instagram. Period.

  • Reblogged this on Notes from An Alien and commented:
    Today’s re-blog could be seen as a “Prelude” to tomorrow’s Story Bazaar Tale………

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