Friday, April 6, 2012

All signs point to Swift Syndrome

It's not a real thing, but if it were I'd have been diagnosed long ago. Luckily I'm already on the treatment plan.

In the early days of my personal Facebook experience, I had a problem with fishing for mystery. I was in high school, which I guess excuses the vanity somewhat. But it's clear by my "status" past that I had the tendency to be over-the-top, random and very very cryptic.

But underneath the dramatic tone lurked a bigger picture - one of emotional and societal intrigue. And I was never afraid to be absolutely frank - without revealing anything at all - on social media sites.

A few years after joining Facebook, I started listening to Taylor Swift. I loved her catchy music and the emotional power of her lyrics - even if that "power" only appealed to silly girls under the age of 20. She could write about whatever was on her mind and everyone would listen and be on her side.

But not all of us are Taylor Swift. Not everyone is on our side when we start grumbling over a boy who hurt us and never using his name (or using his name and then never breaching the subject in public ever again). There's not much more to her lyrical stories than that - boys, boys, boys and drama, drama, drama. Since we're not Taylor and we can't crank out hit after hit that bash our ex-lovers, we have to find other outlets. Enter in the Facebook News Feed.

I think our openness comes from this internal perception filter that convinces us that we will never be held accountable for what we share on our Facebook walls/timelines. Even though we know that we have a few hundred friends who have access to whatever we decide to post, we think nothing of it and often go on sharing our deepest darkest ruminations even when they end up being pretentious, obnoxious or even depressing.

We're not Taylor, as I've said, so we know that we won't get views from all of our "friends." But we're also purposely blind to the fact that when we do share, we're leaving a permanent mark of our melodrama on a relatively public online location. And we're even more blind to the fact that, unlike Taylor, no one cares what we have to say about our sad lives. In fact, they'd much rather ignore it than be reminded of it every time they log into their favorite social networking site.

Traces of this Taylor Swift Syndrome go all the way back to a little rinky dink website that I used to use called MySpace. In a time of middle school naiveté, I spent an evening finding photos online of some of my favorite celebrities and compiling a list of the traits belonging to the "Perfect Man."

My favorite delegation on the list was "seeming innocence of Michael Cera." It also included such luminaries as Ryan Gosling and James McAvoy. Things haven't changed much, except my own sanity.

The problem with Swift Syndrome is it drives you to strange lengths to try and make a point. Like TSwift with her music, sufferers like myself had trouble with holding in our strange inner monologue. We would assume all of our thoughts were gold - including song lyrics and depressed musings on how no one felt romantically for us. Instead of just letting those feelings go, we shared them in MySpace bulletins and blogs, Facebook notes and status updates. And we did it stealthily - at least we thought so.

It became ridiculous. So much so that it has forever tainted my view of Facebook, to the point that whenever someone posts a song lyric or clip on the site, I assume it has some autobiographical meaningfulness.

I guess to some extent that assumption is true. Most people use social networking as a way to let the "real them" (or what they consider the real them) shine through their media tastes and witticisms in 140 characters or less. On Facebook they post YouTube clips or blog posts (do you see me physically wincing?) that serve as personal diatribes on the toils of teenagehood.

For someone like Taylor Swift who has a massive following and millions of listeners who would gladly hear her vent about John Mayer or Jake Gyllenhaal, this method of ranting and raving in a condensed form (for her music) works out just fine. But for the rest of us it is slightly petty and immature.

Since getting a Facebook, I've gone through a progression of being more careful about how much of me I insert into the website. Instead of writing histrionic sentences about how stressed or depressed or lovestruck I was, I started just sharing information when it was important or when I felt it was somewhat relevant to my "audience."

Still, it's hard not to get caught up by Swift Syndrome. The desire to spill our souls to the insulated world that envelopes us under that blue toolbar is ever-tempting. I've been known to delete posts because I've looked back and realized I'd let myself fall victim to my own bent toward the melodramatic.

So I guess it's a constant struggle. We're stuck in the middle of two opposing forces. The first is our hearts, begging us to tell the world how we feel. The heart longs for sympathy, for companionship, for someone to agree and "like" what we posted so we can feel some sort of unanimity and interconnectedness with our "friends."

But the other part is the mind. The mind wants us to let go of those issues in life that most wear on us. Instead of letting the heart take over, the mind wants to force us out of our funks in whatever way will keep us furthest from danger in the future.

In my opinion the mind sounds like the angel on my shoulder, the heart a devilish fiend on the other shoulder trying to get me to bring out the worst in myself - and share it with my little internet world, population 300.

That being said, "The Story of Us" is my own vicarious diatribe.
For me, Swift Syndrome has been on one side the desire to be like Taylor - to write songs like "Better than Revenge" or "The Story of Us" and post them all over the place so people might "understand" what I'm going through. But the dramatics don't work if you're not Taylor Swift. And that's what the mind wants you to know. The heart will keep telling you that someone will eventually care about your complaints. But the heart is wrong.

Facebook encourages us to share ourselves with the world, but it also teaches us to be careful about what we want to share with the world. There is so much at our fingertips, we just have to figure out how to use it. Let's leave the teardrops to Taylor on her guitar and away from our keyboards.

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