The Story Library of your Life in the age of Social Media

22 06 2011

Social media has turned communication technology upside down and changed how we share our life’s stories with each other. Rather than a singular, linear storyline we are developing webs with other people. The entire scope of our stories encompass all the volumes of the people we are connected with in this “wired” time.

Since the development of language people have been telling stories. With every new technology and medium, communication has been revolutionized: the printing press, broadcast media, phones, cell phones and the internet. It seems that with any new technology, we humans will find a way to use it to communicate.

The internet has not only changed how our stories get delivered, but has also changed how we compose them. Long gone are the days of multiple page, hand-written letters. Now it’s 140 characters or less or a short Facebook profile or “About Me” page. And sure, each individual message, tweet or comment is shorter but the overall volume is growing exponentially (even youth today who have grown up with the internet are writing more and writing more outside of school). Communication over the internet comes in shorter bursts…but those bursts are continuous. This new and sporadic exchange of information influences how we choose to share our stories and how we listen to the stories of others.

The construction of your story 

Rather than write a 10 page letter to a pen pal telling the story of our lives, we now maintain Facebook profile pages and Twitter feeds. No one message can capture the essence of a person, but look at their entire history on a site, what they reposted from somewhere else, what they “liked” and who they are connected to and you could learn far more than what they could write in even 100 pages. It may even be one of these secondary aspects of what you put on a social media site that strikes someone else and gets them to follow or to friend you. The picture we paint of ourselves on these kinds of sites is not a continuous narrative but rather a hodgepodge of thoughts, ideas and interests. It’s up to the reader to put the pieces back together to find out about you.

Stories interweaving

In addition to re-composing the stories of others, readers are also active by being interactive. There is always a “like” or “follow” or “share” button and readers are encouraged to engage. When you retweet or repost an article or a message, you are adding it to your own story. We are not only creators but curators, combing through the mountains of information available, picking out what is of value to us and adding it to our repertoire. Rather than writing a singular story of our lives, we are constructing a library of everything that moves and inspires us. Of what makes us laugh and cry, dream and hope.

Moving your story forward

What you can pull away from social media and take with you to your real life are those things which you curate. Your own Feed or Profile contains what you have already experienced. The things you note and link to can show where you want to go. Take a look at all the tweets you retweeted, the photo albums of friends that you “liked” and the articles you shared. What do you like about these things? If they inspired you, what qualities do they share? The commonalities that these things have could be shaped into goals and aspirations for the future.

Personally, I have a friend who takes thoughtful, quirky photos which I “like” steadily. I admire her work because it ignites in me a drive to be more creative. To be a producer of something – anything – rather than merely a consumer.

So, are you more of a creator or a curator? Do you think there is value in both?