The Good Ol’ Social Media/Toxicity Conundrum

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Author of Another Place You’ve Never Been (the prequel to I Know This Much is True?), debut novelist Rebecca Kauffman posted a thought-provoking piece on publishersweekly.com called “Is Social Media Toxic to Writing?” Ms. Kauffman explores an issue that I wrangled with for years, ever since publishing my first book way back in the Stone Ages of 2003 (hard to believe, but in that year there were no such things as Facebook [2004], Twitter [2006], Tumblr [2007], or Instagram [2010]): Do I succumb to the pressure and become a social media who**? For many years, I resisted. Social media platforms were dumb, fake (goddamn phonies, to quote Holden C.), pointless, and a waste of the space-time continuum.

Then, in 2013, I published my first novel and reality hit me like a stinky fish from Tsukiji Market across the face –>  No social media presence = No chance of building a core audience = No chance of landing an agent = No chance of signing with a respectable publisher = No chance of turning my dream into a full-time career. So what did I do?

Well, I think the answer is obvious by now. Perhaps Nick Carraway would be disappointed in my decision to sell out, but then again maybe Jay Gatsby would have seen it like Carraway described in Fitzgerald’s classic novel:

“And as I sat there brooding on the old, unknown world, I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock.”

Although Ms. Kauffman looks at literary superhero Murakami Haruki as a case in point as to whether one should  spend hours on social media daily, exposing intimate parts of yourself and your inner-workings to the public (the Japanese literary superhero is notorious for giving very few interviews or public readings, let alone using social media on a regular basis), I think it’s dangerous to seek guidance in this area from a writer such as Murakami; for anyone who started a career in writing after 2004, the rules of engagement are forever changed.

I believe it was Jonathan Franzen, celebrated author of The Corrections and Freedom, who said it best when he expressed his sorrow for young writers trying to make a go of it in today’s publishing world because they are so pressured to spend time Tweeting and Facebooking, for example, that it takes time away from their craft. Franzen is especially irked by Twitter, telling all those who gathered for a talk of his at Tulane University in 2012:

“Twitter is unspeakably irritating. Twitter stands for everything I oppose. It’s hard to cite facts or create an argument in 140 characters … It’s like if Kafka had decided to make a video semaphoring The Metamorphosis. Or it’s like writing a novel without the letter ‘P’… It’s the ultimate irresponsible medium. People I care about are readers … particularly serious readers and writers, these are my people. And we do not like to yak about ourselves.”

Ultimately, I think Ms. Kauffman would agree with Franzen when she ends her Publishers Weekly piece by stating:

“For me, the best way to work, the only way to work, really, is to create a space for myself in which the reader’s perception of me (as a person) does not exist. It’s only after I have squashed down all awareness of myself that I’m able to access another world and explore it freely and truthfully.”

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