My list of what is social media is defined by age. My first access to the Internet was in 1991. The company I’d just joined had installed a Cisco router with a 14,400 dial on demand modem. A small SCO Unix box was the means for providing everyone with an email account. I became the de facto admin and spent time exploring what seemed to be the limitless resources suddenly out there. Of course, what felt limitless back then is minuscule compared to today. Extrapolating from the earliest figures I can find for 1995, in 1991 there were approximately 1-2 million world-wide users, about 0.05% of the world population.
Mailing lists were first as they were for work. These created a first problem. Either constantly checking for new mail, or that anxious feeling that every incoming email was important, needed immediate attention and response. Then I found UseNet. Not the fast interactive medium that we are used to with social media today, however, I think it genuinely qualifies as social media. Here, I found my resources on transgender issues.
Everything felt important. Prioritising was impossible. Over 8 or 9 months I’d grown to over 1000 messages / emails a day. It wasn’t just the volume that was overwhelming, the content of gender material was additionally distressing emotionally.
All in all, I wasn’t coping. Work suffered, as did the little home life I had – work 15 hours and an hour each way commute didn’t leave any down time and what there was became alarmingly filled with alcohol.
These were my first lessons in the mental pitfalls of social media. At some point you have to prioritise. You have to learn that you’re not responsible for solving every heart rending problem of complete strangers. Step back and dissociate to maintain your own sanity.
Just as well I never liked IRC and quickly avoided it !!
Looking back, my generation have been a sort of social media guinea pig. With a browser I became familiar with kink chatrooms, especially Mrs Silks. Eye opening, or what ? Suddenly there were like minded people finding an out of the way place to congregate and explore highly embarrassing kinks and fetishes.
It enabled deeply emotional relationships with people far away who would never meet. Online relationships are part and parcel of modern life, it was all brand new then. There was a lot of naivety and broken hearts.
The first person I would call mistress came from that environment. A whole load of new anxieties. Trying to get the modem to connect in time for the scheduled call. Having several sets of cables when travelling. Devastation when all efforts failed.
Social media presents new communication problems for the human species. Nuance is lost, no matter how many emojis or (as it was then) smileys you concoct. Misunderstandings magnify as benignly intended words are misinterpreted as insulting. In some ways hurt is magnified because in trying to work out what’s really being said we hear and filter their part of the conversation in our head before they’ve actually said it. Most of us are our own worst enemies here, we attack our own insecurities worse than anyone else could do.
These days it is this blog and Twitter that are my main social media go to’s, with a side order of LinkedIn for minimal professional use. Which reminds me of a long argument I lost in 2000 at a security conference. The argument involved authenticating user’s identity. The ‘big boys’ of the time considered that everyone should have only one identity – their real one. I argued that we all interacted daily using multiple identities that we often didn’t want to overlap. That these needed to be isolated from each other.
Well – although this was years before Facebook, you can see I lost the argument. I suspect that even back then, those ‘big boys’ were already thinking about their convenience to collect revenue opportunities rather than user privacy.
I won’t use anything Facebook related. You’ll never find me using WhatsApp and I restrict my sites to those where I can use the relevant identity for what I’m using it for. Despite the annoyance of the odd explicit request from someone who thinks I’m a trans porn model, Twitter suits me fine. I don’t even have a vanilla Twitter account.
Which highlights what some will find an oddity. I have no shared social media space with anyone from family, ex-school and ex-work colleagues nor actual social circle.
That’s probably the result of nearly thirty years of paranoia about who and what I really am leaking where it would be dangerous. That’s been an obsessive fear for much of that time and only now am I in a position to not really care if there is some leakage.
This blog has become a significant outlet for me. There’s stuff I write here that I wouldn’t have considered saying only a few years ago. It’s only here that I’ve talked about the onset of mental health issues that are most likely a side effect of acting on being transgendered. That was hard to do and I’m very glad I had the courage to do so because writing about it and hearing feedback maintains perspective instead of spiralling out of control.
I’ve never written with the aim of soliciting sympathy or boosting my ego. Yet it’s undoubtedly true that having a readership that can simply understand because of overlapping experiences has really helped me maintain some sort of equilibrium. Out of nowhere I have acquired friends and acquaintances with whom I can be honest and open with, who don’t judge and provide support, even when they don’t realise it.
Over the years I’ve seen most of the pitfalls of social media and it’s led to me being necessarily isolated in small groups. I’ve seen the best of social media in that I found my way to exploring D/s for real. I found my long time mistress and now my domme through social media and I couldn’t be more grateful.
And now ? I’ve found what works for me and more importantly, I’ve found a quite diverse group of people who I enjoy interacting with for who, rather than what, they are.